VinFast Brings New EVs, Assembly Plans to U.S.

Armed with five new BEVs and a regional manufacturing strategy, VinFast aims to undercut competitors on price.

VinFast design director David Lyon, formerly with General Motors, with the VF e36 electric crossover at the 2021 L.A. Show. (Paul Eisenstein)

The name VinFast isn’t likely to mean much to anyone outside Vietnam where the automotive startup launched four years ago. But by November 2022, the company expects to have two EVs, the VF e35 and VF e36, on sale in the U.S., with a U.S. assembly plant in operation in 2024, according to CEO Michael Lohscheller, who unveiled both vehicles at the 2021 Los Angeles Auto Show.

As many as three more Vinfast products may debut at CES 2022 in January. Lohscheller is best known for his role leading Opel to a turnaround after its sale by General Motors to the PSA Group. He left what now is a Stellantis brand last July, signing on as the chief executive for Haiphong-based VinFast – Vietnam’s biggest conglomerate with a market capitalization of $35 billion.

Having launched its new automaking venture in 2017 with a gasoline-powered SUV based on the BMW X5, VinFast now is set to shift to an all-electric lineup, starting with the compact VF e35 and the larger VF e36. The two crossovers are designed to offer a mix of extended range and high-line features. But, picking up a page from earlier Asian entrants, they’ll be sold at a mainstream price, the company promises. During the L.A. show, Lohscheller (right) spoke with SAE Media to discuss the two new products and VinFast’s broader strategy.

You have some big plans for the U.S. market, including two models. But we’ve heard there’s more coming.

The unveiling of our two electric SUVs is the first step, but we also believe that localizing in the United States is important. So we have said that we will have a local factory in the United States by the second half of 2024 – because we believe that doing the business locally is better than shipping things around the world. So, we basically [will] have the value creation here in the United States.

If Congress passes new EV incentives that will add a bonus for American-made vehicles.

Yeah, you have better control of things in the region then.

But isn’t there a sizable cost to shifting production to the U.S.?

There are benefits, obviously, [importing] from Vietnam, because it's a very competitive country. At the same time, it also depends on where your supply chain is. Obviously, you have a lot of suppliers also in the United States. So, we believe that you can have a very competitive situation here in the U.S. by also localizing your costs here.

Which vehicles will you build here?

Too early to say. We have unveiled the two cars here today [Nov. 17, 2021 in Los Angeles] and then we will announce step-by-step what we do later.

We understand there are at least three more vehicles you are planning to unveil at CES, so you've got an aggressive rollout.

Well, today we are here at the Los Angeles show and we just unveiled two cars. So, we are on our journey. It’s never easy to enter a new market, even for a major automaker. It can’t be easy for a startup such as VinFast.

But you have to see the industry is changing. In the past 50 years, people were very loyal to brands. Now it's different. You have people open for new brands, for fresh things, of course, with electrification and new technology. And we think the opportunity is there. There's a lot which needs to be done, of course. But we are ready for this.

Will Americans accept the idea of a Vietnamese car?

It's all about the offer, I think, if you have great products, reasonable pricing and great service. We will give a 10-year warranty on the cars. People will appreciate that a lot. So, we think we have a very competitive offer and that's why we want to compete in this important market. At the same time, with electrification taking off, the market will grow. So, I think the potential is there now and we're happy to compete.

For your original, gasoline-powered SUV based on the BMW X5, you relied on extensive help from some of the biggest automotive suppliers. Is that your approach with the e35 and e36?

This is our own platform. And this is important, because this is our path for the future. And yeah, it is correct in the past, for the Vietnamese market, we had received support from BMW and GM. But this is our own architecture.

The electric drive system also was developed in-house?

We work with partners there, but we also have in-house development. And obviously we want to do more and more on the battery side ourselves, because we think strategically that is very important.

Including batteries?

We are working on this and have announced that we will have a ‘gigafactory’ in Vietnam. We have the approach that we work with external partners where we do the research together. We also have our own battery research institute where we make sure we find the optimal solution.

You said little about the EV drivetrain technology during your Los Angeles unveiling. What can you tell me now?

The two (BEVs) have the same architecture but they have different ranges, different battery pack sizes. The e36 goes up to 422 miles [using the global WLTP standard; EPA range likely will be closer to 300 miles].

Can you talk about the volumes you are looking for, both globally and in the U.S.?

No. Today, we have made an announcement that we have (plans for) a local factory, and then sales volume will develop, but this would be far too early to say now. It's all about launching this brand and making sure it has the right strengths at the beginning and has the right quality. Launching a brand is a unique opportunity and you have to get it right.

Are you at all concerned about the ongoing chip shortage and whether that could impact your launch plans?

Of course, you have to do your homework, which we did. I think the question is what will happen in 2023 when our volume obviously will be larger than that next year. But yeah, we have done the necessary homework. So, we are well-prepared for this.

Talk about your dealer network plans.

We have to focus on our own distribution. So, we will not work with third-party dealers. [It will be] factory owned and online – heavy emphasis on online. You can go online or go to our stores in California. We will have 60 stores. And we will have a mobile service team coming to your house, if that is necessary. We will (eventually be) a 50-state company, but we will start in California.