Nobody’s heard much from VinFast, the automotive arm of Vietnam’s largest listed company (Vingroup) since it unveiled a car and an SUV at the 2018 Paris Auto Show, each featuring Pininfarina redesigns of F10-generation BMW 5 Series and the F15 BMW X5 underpinnings. We paid attention because the company also announced plans to expand to North America with a VinFast electric car or two.
At the recent Move America mobility conference in Austin Texas, VinFast chief service officer Craig Westbrook illuminated those plans in greater detail. Here we’ll share the plans he presented, but because Westbrook and VinFast have neglected to respond to any of our follow-up questions, we aren’t holding our breath.
In the years since that Paris debut, the company has taken over GM’s assembly plant in Hanoi for use building the Fadil city car—a licensed design based on the Opel Karl variant of our Chevy Spark. It’s built at a 1.3-square-mile facility at Cát Hải in northern Vietnam to build cars, motorbikes, and parts boasting 90 percent automated production with a capacity to build 250,000 cars and 500,000 e-scooters per year.
The BMW-based car and SUV are in production as the Lux A2.0 and Lux SA2.0 respectively, and a luxury version of the latter known as the President has been launched, powered by a 6.2-liter GM-sourced V-8. VinFast has also purchased GM’s Lang Lang proving ground in Australia and launched a series of electric scooters, motorbikes, SUVs, and even a bus.
VinFast EVs Are California Bound
The company’s electric SUV lineup currently consists of the VF e34, VF e35, and the forthcoming VF e36, sized for the C, D, and E classes. The latter two are scheduled to spearhead the company’s expansion into North America, starting in e-friendly California in mid-2022. The VF e35 is roughly the size of a Tesla Model Y, and like that benchmark vehicle, it gets a choice of one motor or two, each of which produces 201 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The driving range is an estimated 250 miles.
The larger seven-seater is said to be comparable in size to a Chevy Traverse, Hyundai Palisade, or Kia Telluride (though in both cases the VinFast SUVs’ wheelbases are longer than the comparable vehicles’). Two motor power is standard (using the same motors), and a 106-kWh battery pack is said to provide 341 miles of WLTP range (probably 280-300 miles by the EPA’s standards). The interior design aesthetic has been strongly influenced by Tesla’s screen-centric minimalism.
VinFast’s stated aim is to remove barriers (real or perceived) to EV ownership, and the brand believes that concern over long-term battery life is a major stumbling block for customers. So VinFast will offer a battery leasing scheme aimed at lowering the vehicle purchase price and eliminating the risk of a costly battery replacement (VinFast promises to replace any pack that falls below 70 percent of its original storage capacity). The exact terms and conditions have yet to be communicated.
All the cool EV companies are virtual, and VinFast will aim to arrange all test drives and purchases digitally with vehicles delivered to the customer. Service will likewise be performed either digitally (by way of over-the-air diagnosis and updates); via roadside assistance, or fully outfitted vans coming to service the vehicle at the client’s home or business; or by transporting the vehicle to a service center.
VinFast anticipates 95 percent of service can be done remotely, with the remaining 5 percent of maintenance/repair operations requiring a chassis lift. VinFast even envisions an app-based approach to arranging the installation of its 11.5-kW wall charging unit, in which the customer uploads photos of the requested installation location, and these are used to provide quotes and book a contractor.
What Could Go Wrong?
In watching Mr. Westbrook’s presentation, we sensed a bit of potential hubris. We’ve grown this far, this fast, and hired or partnered with all the right experts—we are unstoppable! Today Vietnam, in 2022, the WORLD! We don’t need to engage with the media, we’ll just come and let our vehicles do the talking for us!
But, has VinFast done sufficient homework in its short life? We’re unaware of a single photo of a camouflaged VinFast SUV having been snapped on our shores. Is the company doing its due diligence and testing its cars at extremely low temperatures in northern Minnesota? Is it hot-weather testing them in Arizona by towing loads up Davis Dam? If by some miracle VinFast manages to launch its e-SUVs in California in 2022, we might counsel our readers to resist the urge to be the first on your block to own one.
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