VinFast is more than just a name. “Vin” denotes its place as part of the Vingroup, the largest private conglomerate in Vietnam. “Fast” is appropriate given the speed with which the fledgling automaker is working to establish itself as a global automaker, with plans to sell electric SUVs in the U.S. later this year and build EVs and batteries in North Carolina in July 2024.
VinFast is still a baby. The automaker was founded in Vietnam in 2017 to make scooters, vehicles, and buses. Parent Vingroup makes complete cities where 100,000 people live in Vinhomes, attend Vinschools, apply to get into the VinUni university, go to a Vinmec hospital for their ills, visit VinWonders theme park to ride a roller coaster, and perhaps work at a luxury Vinpearl hotel. The conglomerate is owned by billionaire Pham Nhat Vuong, known as the chairman. He has many vice chairmen, including VinFast CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy, a strong woman known as Madame Thuy.
VinFast is evolving with dazzling speed. In 21 months VinFast developed its first three vehicles and built an assembly complex on what used to be swampland in Hai Phong, near Hanoi.
Only three years in, VinFast announced a major pivot: it will stop building vehicles with combustion engines by the end of the year and make only electric vehicles. It is an expensive move early in the automaker’s life, but the Chairman wanted to get clean vehicles on the road and will cover the costly decision.
VinFast Future Product Lineup
The next two vehicles to be launched, the 2023 VinFast VF 8 two-row midsize SUV (formerly known as the VF e35) and the three-row 2023 VinFast VF 9 (formerly the VF e36) ride on a new platform developed with the help of Magna’s engineering consultants. VinFast uses five international studios for design and is working with J.D. Power to nail quality. Internal design, engineering, and manufacturing talent includes a number of former General Motors employees.
The SUVs were designed to be offered as both gasoline-powered and electric and have more than 65,000 global reservations. The sudden move to kill combustion engines means the next-generation battery packs can switch to a flat-floor skateboard design; the original packs were shaped to accommodate a fuel tank on the planned ICE models .
VinFast will start building the North American-spec VF 8 on Aug. 31 and export it for sale in November with a starting price of $41,900, not counting the monthly charge of $35-$110 to lease the battery, depending on the subscription plan. The VF 9 will follow a month later with a starting price of $56,700 and $44-$160 a month for the battery lease. In 2024 buyers have the option to purchase or lease the battery. The VinFast VF 7 compact SUV will launch next year on a platform it shares with the VinFast VF 6.
The SUVs will launch with a standard battery with a range of up to 260 miles on a single charge. A longer-range battery with a range up to 292 miles will follow in early 2023. A third, larger battery could be added by the end of 2023 to provide about 340 miles of range. Leased batteries can be swapped for a more powerful one in the future.
The U.S. will get two-motor AWD models with two trims to start: Eco and Plus. A third premium trim will follow in 2023. The automaker doesn’t want to launch in the U.S. with too many flavors initially to streamline the message and awareness. But there are at least two variations to come including a premium midsize sedan. Further down the road VinFast is considering a pickup truck, Madame Thuy says.
Driving a VinFast VF 8 Electric SUV
MotorTrend was recently in Vietnam to drive VF 8 prototypes. There were three SUVs, all early builds—arguably too early to drive—but the chairman ordered a few vehicles to be built for visiting media, investors, and suppliers to sample. A makeshift test track was set up on a road in the manufacturing complex. It was a 2.0-km (1.2-mile) test drive: a kilometer-long straight shot, turn around, repeat.
The three drivable VF 8s represented different stages of development. A white VF 8 Eco was the earliest build, had a known brake problem, and silently disappeared shortly after MotorTrend‘s disappointing lap: the integrated brake system engaged when slowing to turn and a bad sensor would not release it, preventing acceleration until the brake was touched again.
VF 8 chief engineer Huy Chieu, who was born in Vietnam but moved to Canada at age three, said they were aware of the problem and had already worked with the supplier to recalibrate and fix it. That is what prototypes are for: to find and fix problems as part of the development process. The difference is most automakers don’t let outsiders behind the wheel of early builds so early in the process.
We got a second shot, this time in the red prototype which was built a few weeks later. The difference was night and day, which speaks to how quickly the team is making improvements. Chieu, who spent 24 years at General Motors and was working on the Ultium battery system and new family of EVs until he left last fall to join VinFast, said the big difference is speed in decision-making. Approvals that took months at GM are made in days at VinFast.
The speed limit for this short first drive was 80 kph (50 mph) but with Chieu along for the second ride, we gunned it to 120 kph (75 mph) or so—after all we had traveled a long way for this. T
he power seems to be there. Hard braking on our limited course was a tad harsh and there is no one-pedal drive mode yet, but engineering is working on it, as well as adjustable regenerative braking settings. Chieu thinks both will be in place by the time the VF 8 vehicle goes on sale; if not, an over-the-air update will be sent within the first model year.
What Powers the VinFast VF 8?
The Eco and Plus trims have the same 150-kW dual motors which generate 402 hp and 457 lb-ft in the top trim for a manufacturer-estimated 0-60 mph time of 5.3 seconds. The motors are software limited to 130 kW in the Eco for more range; with the resultant 348 hp and 368 lb-ft onboard, it takes the VF 8 5.8 seconds to scoot to 60 mph.
Steering was fine, considering all we did was turn around. There was no opportunity to test handling. VinFast benchmarked the Hyundai Ioniq 5, which led the team to upgrade the springs and a few other tweaks, with more improvements still in the works.
By launch time the SUV will match the competition in tech (Vingroup has its own tech companies) including driver-assistance systems such as Summon Mode, fully automated parking assist and remote parking. The hardware is in place, the software is still in development, Chieu says. Vehicles have begun testing in California, Detroit, and Arizona, as well as Spain and Sweden for greater exposure to elements and traffic vagaries.
With the Vingroup’s AI company and supplier Cerence for voice recognition, VinFast developed its own infotainment system. The virtual assistant speaks six languages and voice commands are prompted by saying “Hey VinFast.” The vehicles have wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, numerous USB ports, and wireless charging. Adjust the steering wheel by touching it on the vehicle pictured on the screen. Touch the picture of the sunroof to open it. The only screen in front of the driver is the head-up display.
Fit and finish are decent for such an early build. The SUVs provide good rear head and leg room. There is extra storage in the shallow frunk (front trunk). Seats are made by VinFast and were comfortable in the short time we were in them. In fact, 80-90 percent of the interior is done in-house.
Will Everything Get Fixed in Time?
There are still a lot of bugs to work out but the models we saw are two generations from the final version, Madame Thuy says.
In one prototype adjusting the seat back sent it forward instead. The crossed wire has already been fixed, we were told. A window would not go down until the brake was pressed. The hardware is there, the bugs are all software, all fixable, and there is plenty of time with instantaneous decision-making and an almost unlimited budget, Chieu says.
Dave Lyon, the former General Motors designer who has been director of design at VinFast since its inception, agrees. “It is not on sale in the U.S. until November,” Lyon says. “That’s forever for us.”
The chairman says three years of developing, testing, and selling vehicles in Vietnam validates VinFast’s ability to offer quality products. He believes the global EVs will launch on time but says that can be pushed back if there are any shortcomings. “That is my commitment.”
Meanwhile, it is full speed ahead. VinFast has an office in Los Angeles and the first three retail outlets open May 25 in Santa Monica Place, San Diego, and Berkeley. They are spaces where customers can see the vehicle and configure one to buy. VinFast is also looking to get its vehicles to rental and lease companies so people can experience them.
VinFast Means Speed, Right?
Yes, VinFast is true to its name in its haste to take its place in the automotive world. Ironically, the chairman explains “Fast” does not, in fact, denote speed. It is a Vietnamese acronym. The F is for the Vietnamese word for style, A is for safe, S is for creative, and T is for pioneering, all of which are key values that won’t change, the chairman says.
So why is VinFast moving so fast, if not for the name? “Life is short,” the chairman says. He can only work for the next 20-30 years so he cannot be slow and leave things undone for the next generation. “There is only one way, to try our best and to live fast.”
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