Vietnamese start-up VinFast clearly wants to live up to its name. Barely two months ago, the automaker announced plans to launch two battery-electric vehicles later this year. Now, the total number is up to five, four of which will come to the U.S. market.
And, in an exclusive interview at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the automaker’s CEO confirmed the brand is considering which of three locations will become the site of VinFast’s new U.S. assembly plant, a factory it hopes to have opened sometime in 2023.
Based in the port city of Haiphong, VinFast was formed barely four years ago and had its first model, a heavily modified version of the BMW X5, in production by early 2019. It is shifting directions, however, as global CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy announced at CES.
“VinFast will become the first auto company in the world to cease production of gas-powered vehicles and move entirely to an electric-powered fleet,” she said.
Three New BEV Models Make Their Debut
VinFast revealed the first two of its upcoming BEVs at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, the midsize VFe-35 and full-size VFe-36 SUVs. The two have since been renamed VF8 and VF9. That keeps them in sync with the three other models unveiled at CES on Wednesday night.
The VF5 is an entry-level mini-SUV, the VF6 a subcompact, and the VF7 a midsize crossover. The carmaker has yet to reveal specific details about the five models but has suggested the larger offerings, such as the VF8 and VF9, will deliver about 300 miles of range.
While VinFast will position itself as a mainstream brand, those two products will go after more upscale buyers with an array of features including semi-autonomous driving, and an extensive array of onboard infotainment systems.
Among other things, VinFast plans to offer self-parking capabilities that will include the ability to exit the vehicle and have it park on its own. A “summon” function will then allow the vehicle to automatically exit a tight spot and drive to the motorist. While not new features, they are still found on very few other vehicles.
Initially, the goal is to have limited hands-free, or “Level 2+”, capabilities, said VinFast chief technology officer Hong Sang Bae. More advanced Level 3 and even Level 4 capabilities are under development, he added during the CES presentation.
Level 3 would still require a driver behind the wheel ready to take control in an emergency. Level 4 autonomy would be able to operate with no one behind the wheel — but only on specific roads and under good driving conditions.
Of the five VinFast models, all but the VF5 will wind up in U.S. showrooms over the next several years. The entry-level model will target markets in Europe and Southeast Asia. VinFast expects to begin distributing the two largest models in California by the end of this year.
Former CEO Michael Lohscheller previously told AutoWise the goal is to have as many as 60 showrooms open soon after launch. As demand grows, the automaker plans to expand into other states that have copied California’s strict emissions mandates and eventually service the entire United States.
The VF8 will start at $41,000, VinFast announced at CES. The VF9 will start at $56,000. Those figures don’t include a unique battery lease program. The base price covers only the vehicle.
Customers will then choose from one of several battery lease packages that, CEO Thuy noted, will include a free replacement plan should the range of a pack fall below 70% of its original capacity.
The carmaker has just set up new American headquarters outside Las Vegas. It has even bigger plans for the U.S., however.
American Factory in the Works
In an interview, CEO Thuy confirmed earlier reports that VinFast will set up an assembly plant in the States. Following CES, she will be visiting the three sites selected after an extensive search. If all goes according to plan, the automaker expects to break ground sometime in 2022 and to have the factory operating in little more than a year.
Capacity, she added, would come in at around 250,000 electric SUVs annually. And the site would include a “gigafactory” battery plant.
Thuy acknowledged that it will be challenging to establish the brand in the U.S. But she said she is confident the timing is right considering the ongoing shift from gas to battery power, something that has already opened up the market to other new brands like Tesla, Lucid, and Rivian.