How Vietnam’s WinFast wants to reach the American EV mainstream

Haifong, Vietnam – “This is a great opportunity. Our world is changing,” Winfest CEO Thui Lee replied when I asked him why Vingroup was loading itself with cars.

Vingroup, which created and owns WinFast, was founded in 1993 in Hanoi, Vietnam, and has since become the largest private group in the country. Founder and chairman Pham Nat Vuong is proud to be the first Vietnamese billionaire and Vietnam’s richest man. Its group is ubiquitous: in addition to cars, scooters and buses manufactured by WinFast, Vingroup’s products and services on the web include luxury resorts, theme parks, real-estate projects, shopping malls, hospitals and schools. Its 2020 revenue represents about 2.2% of Vietnam’s GDP and its three listed companies are valued at about $ 39 billion. Cars can easily look like an unnecessary distraction at first.

But, at the CEO’s point, the automotive industry is at a turning point, and for beginners they have the best shots in decades. WinFast’s short-term strategy for the North American market is clear: it wants to launch in 2022 with an offer. A pair of electric crossovers, the VF 8 and VF 9, pictured below, and it plans to begin construction in North Carolina by 2024. Can it pull it off? I trek to Vietnam to find out.

Against adversity, not against grain

Winfast is accustomed to denying adversity: it built a state-of-the-art factory in a wetland near Haifong in record time. It was established in September 2017, and released its first car on the Vietnamese market in November of the following year, after General Motors bought the Vietnamese operation. Its first models were literally an international hodgepodge of parts: the Lux SA2.0, for example, a third-generation BMW X5 (F15) whose exterior design was redesigned by Pininfarina. Most were powered by a four-cylinder engine, but a few were called presidents and were built with a 6.2-liter LT1 V8 – the same engine that powered the C7 Corvette. Yes, these guys bought a German car, gave it an Italian design, did an American heart transplant and made it in Vietnam. It’s absolutely impressive.

Although these are the beginnings of WinFast, and we will not see them on our shores. What we will see is the VF 8 and the larger VF 9, which were launched at the 2021 Los Angeles Auto Show as e35 and e36, respectively. Fully electric, the VF8 comes with a dual-motor all-wheel-drive powertrain with 348 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque when buyers opt for the entry-level Echo Trim. The next and last (for now) is the Plus, which posts stats of 402 hp and 457 lb-ft. VinFast will initially offer standard- and extended-range battery packs. Get the previous one, which offers usable power of 82 kWh, and the maximum driving range should be checked at 260 miles for Echo and 248 miles for Plus. Get the next one, which has a usable capacity rated at 87.7 kWh, and those figures have increased to 292 and 277, respectively. Note that these figures are preliminary. Other details (such as charging time) will be released near the date of sale of the vehicle, but we already know that the owners will receive two complimentary charging sessions on the Electrify America network of charging stations.

If you want a petrol-powered model, out of your luck. VinFast is only going electric.

Only the VF8 (pictured above) was available for the fastest spin taking on a WinFest factory basis. It is 187 inches long, 74.8 inches wide and 65.4 inches long, a figure that makes it about 2 inches longer and one inch wider than the Volkswagen Tiguan and almost exactly the same length. This is not a coincidence: WinFast is aiming for the mainstream, and some of the executives I’ve talked to have insisted that they see the company’s main competitors as brands that sell gasoline-powered cars. Their goal is to seduce you with the Toyota RAV4, not the Tesla Model Y. This, at least in part, explains why the VF 8 is after the relatively conventional exterior design. The front end is unique, and it’s not a carbon copy of an existing model, but webstars can use its proportions to define the term “crossover.”

Inside, the VF8 is an exercise in simplicity. The driver’s face is dominated by a two-spoke steering wheel, and the dashboard is dominated by a 15.6-inch, landscape-based touchscreen that replaces most of the buttons, dials and switches commonly found in the center stack. All that’s left on the center console is a volume knob (thanks, WinFast!), A button to lock the door, another for alarm light and four buttons to select Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. As big as the switch visible in our photo, don’t pay attention to “sound the alarm!” Carmakers regularly install a kill switch on their pre-production prototypes. I can’t comment on the build quality as the VF 8 is not yet ready for production, and development work is underway, but the cabin provides ample space for both front and rear passengers.

Driving impressions are limited because I spent less than a mile behind the wheel. The VF 8 seems to run just like most electric cars. It is silent and reasonably off the line; VinFast quotes 0-to-60- mph time in the 5-second range depending on the trim level. There was no one-pedal driving mode, but the engineer who fired the shotgun with me explained that it was a feature that would be added to the production model, and a company spokesman added that drivers would be able to select different levels of regeneration using a menu. Touchscreen

The least interesting thing like a car will make the factory. Located about two hours east of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, the Winfast Factory is an amazingly modern facility, distinguished by a level of automation limited to science fiction. The place looks empty, almost terribly, because robots do most of the work without much need for human intervention. Winfast’s battery plant is running at about 80% automation; Its body shop is 98% automated. I have been told to expect similar automation in North Carolina.

It’s a huge complex, too. It is capable of producing 250,000 cars, 3,000 city buses and 250,000 scooters annually. Vietnam’s economy is growing rapidly, the country’s middle class is expanding as a result, and car demand is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Winfast Ready: The planned expansion will increase the plant’s annual vehicle production capacity to 950,000 units by 2026, while the scooter line will be able to produce 500,000 units. It is possible to make one million scooters a year if there is sufficient demand.

Winfast’s master plan

WinFast’s approach to the automotive industry – and it distinguishes it from many large and small companies that have sought a partnership in the United States – “sinks or swims”. This is why it sells a few cars here and there, instead of the easy start for the American market (and a few European markets as well) in countries where homosexuality laws are relaxed enough to put a dead raccoon VIN. It’s easier said than done in America, but if you can make it there, you can probably make it anywhere.

Prices for the VF 8 Eco start at $ 40,700 with the smaller battery pack and $ 41,000 for the slightly larger one; You can enjoy extra range. The Plus model is priced at $ 47,700 and $ 48,000, respectively, while the VF9 ranges from $ 55,500 and $ 61,000. These figures are competitive, and this is partly due to the fact that buyers have to lease batteries primarily; It will not be uniquely included in the purchase price. Tradeoff, and it’s important to note that since you do not own the battery, you will not pay for its replacement when it is no longer charged. Winfast knows that this is a concern for electric vehicles, and it will replace the battery pack for free if its capacity drops below 70%. Customers will have the option to purchase batteries from 2024, and WinFast expects about half of all buyers to take that route.

VinFast is currently taking reservations for two of its upcoming models, and delivery will begin by the end of 2022. The first car will come from Vietnam; Production of the $ 2 billion factory that the firm is building in North Carolina will begin in 2024. And, don’t expect your local Chevrolet dealer to take over the WinFast franchise: the company will sell its cars directly to customers – shopping malls, as well as design stores set up in strategic locations with large stores (some including a service center). While this is a faster and easier way to get cars on the road, it’s a strategy that pegs the company’s growth on state-by-state regulations in the immediate vicinity of direct sales.

Big gamble

VinFast has the funds, ambition and knowledge to blend into the autonomous landscape of America. It doesn’t have a brand image, but it can use its clever marketing tactics to its advantage. The risk is considerable, though. This has led to its entry into the American market (and its success) with the growing demand for electric vehicles, and the unfortunate fact is that battery-powered cars have a special place here. It’s a niche that is undoubtedly growing, you can’t participate in a product presentation without hearing the “Future Electric” jingle, but it’s hard to predict this growth rate. But, on the other hand, WinFast will initially launch in states where EVs tend to be favorable. It plans to open less than 30 stores in California before the end of 2022, for example.

Taking risks is how Toyota, Honda, and Kia, among others, overcame adversity to become family names in America, and some of these car makers started with less experience than WinFast. Toyota set up its American division in October 1957 at an old Rambler dealership in Hollywood, and in 1958 it sold 288 vehicles (including a Land Cruiser) in the United States. Bulls-I might be easier said than done. If not now, never. As the CEO says, the world is changing.

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