Beware China. Beware Japan, and South Korea. Beware Europe. And beware United States as a sleeping giant is ready to shake the global auto industry to its core.
VinFast, a Vietnam-based automaker, is that sleeping giant. VinFast is part of the global Vingroup, also based in Vietnam.
Vingroup, formerly known as Technocom Corporation, was founded in 1993 in Ukraine. The initial product of the company was instant noodles, and their product was popular worldwide.
In the early 2000s, Vingroup shifted its operations to Vietnam with two key brands: Vincom, a communications company, and Vinpearl, a hospitality company.
In January 2012, Vinpearl JSC merged with Vincom JSC to form Vingroup Joint Stock Company.
Vingroup continues to pioneer and lead consumer trends in each of its businesses introducing Vietnamese consumers to a brand new, modern lifestyle with international-standard products and services. Vingroup’s goal is to become a respected, well-recognized brand that is Vietnam’s leading private enterprise.
At the 2018 Paris Motor Show, VinFast stepped onto the international stage with their first two car models, the LUX A2.0 and the LUX SA 2.0. Both models were based on previous-generation BMW products, and production of both models started in 2019.
Then in January 2022, VinFast announced it will put an end to the production of its internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by the end of 2022. The company will instead focus research and development efforts on battery electric vehicles (BEV).
The first two BEV’s are the VF8 and VF9.
Pursuitist recently traveled to Vietnam for an in-depth look at the Vingroup, drive a pre-production VF8, look at a pre-production VF9, ride on a wide selection of VinScooters, and explore the stunning beauty and amazing hospitality of the country and its people.
Our flight to Van Don Airport in Quang Ninh began in San Francisco on a charter flight via Vietnam Airlines. We flew Business Class in the ultra-lux Airbus A350. The sixteen-hour non-stop flight was just amazing with lie-flat seats, individual entertainment options, and a dedicated team of flight attendants that catered immediately to any need. Ring the alert and they were there. Flight attendants wore traditional Vietnamese-styled uniforms. And the food options were off the charts. Having traveled to 79 countries, I consider myself a shameless international “foodie.” After experiencing Vietnamese cuisine on the plane and throughout our epic journey, Vietnamese food, including what the country is most famous for, Pho noodle soup, is now a top three food choice for me when dining out.
First Class service aboard Air Vietnam
Yes, sixteen hours is a journey, but we arrived fresh in Quang Ninh where we were greeted by a team of young Vingroup Ambassadors with wide smiles. After a luxury coach ride, we arrived at the port to take us via small boats to the Vinpearl Resort in Ha Long Bay.
Located on Reu Island in Ha Long Bay, Vinpearl Resort & Spa Ha Long is the first and only resort in Northern Vietnam built entirely from the sea. Along with impressive antique Gothic architecture inspired by the Rennes Theater in France, the resort represents a real jewel in the Vingroup resort portfolio of over 18,000 hotel rooms and villas, two amusement parks, two animal safaris, and four world-class golf courses
After allowing for rest and a super lunchtime meal at the resort, we boarded a cruise ship for a welcome party hosted by Vingroup and VinFast executives.
Traditional nón lá hat
Ha Long Bay
For many years, I’ve admired photos of the striking topography in Vietnam. Most impressive to me were the seemingly non-stop pastures of green, and the stunning rock formations emanating from waterways in the country. Well, Ha Long Bay is one of those waterways. On the upper deck of the ship, I marveled at the rock formations as the sun set on the bay. We also experienced traditional artmaking and dance, live entertainment, and of course all of the delish Vietnamese food we could handle.
Sunset on Ha Long Bay
VinFast Manufacturing Complex
Day two and it was time to explore the many arms of the Vingroup, beginning with the vast VinFast manufacturing complex in Dinh Vu Industrial Park of northern Hai Phong city. The complex opened in June 2019 with the goal of making up to 500,000 VinFast cars per year, including the VF8 and VF9 that we witnessed the production of, as well as scores of Vin eScooters.
The company assembled talent from multiple established companies and sourced European design, engineering, and production technology partners.
The 90% automated plant features state-of-the-art equipment. While the vehicle production line was not yet up to full speed, it gave us great insight into the financial commitment the company has made.
It should be noted that the Hai Phong manufacturing complex was built from the ground up specifically to be a clean, environmentally friendly facility.
Hanoi city is the capital of Vietnam. Located in northern Vietnam on the western bank of the Red River, it’s a city of 3,500,000 people and combines the tranquility of a village with the hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitan city all in one.
The region around present-day Hanoi was settled in prehistoric times, and the location was often chosen as a political center by Chinese conquerors. In 1010 Ly Thai To, the first ruler of the Ly dynasty (1009–1225) of Vietnam, chose the site of Hanoi—then called Thang Long (“Rising Dragon”)—for his capital. Thang Long remained the main capital of Vietnam until 1802, when the last Vietnamese dynasty, the Nguyen (1802–1945), transferred the capital south to Hue. The city occasionally was renamed for periods of time, and one of these names, Dong Kinh, given to it during the Later Le dynasty (1428–1787), became corrupted by Europeans to Tonquin. During the French colonial period (1883–1945) the name Tonkin was used to refer to the entire region. In 1831 the city was renamed Ha Noi (“Between Two Rivers”) by the Nguyen dynasty.
Hanoi street scene
Many of Hanoi’s centuries-old monuments and palaces were destroyed during wars, but there remain several historical and scenic points. Among the latter is Lake Hoan Kiem (“Lake of the Restored Sword”). Historical sites include the Co Loa Citadel, dating from the 3rd century; the Temple of Literature (1070), dedicated to Confucius; the Mot Cot (“One-Pillar”) Pagoda (1049); and the Temple of the Trung Sisters (1142). In addition, the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, built in the 11th century, was designated in 2010 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
During our brief visit to Hanoi, we stayed at the five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarters, and just a few minutes walk to Hoan Kiem Lake and the Red River.
The Metropole reflects French colonial times in Vietnam, and even has two vintage Citroens outside, used as luxury transportation for well-heeled guests in the 1940s.
A card from the hotel’s General Manager was on the desk inside of my luxuriously appointed room that read: “Hanoi is a magical and charming city. I hope you will find that the character, history, and romance of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi may add a little extra special something to your journey here. Savor our French art de vivre blended with elegant Vietnamese touches and please enjoy this wonderful place.”
Also while in Hanoi we visited a popular Water Puppet show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, where talented performers operate puppets in water from behind a bamboo curtain. The fascinating show was made even better with accompanying traditional Vietnamese orchestra music. Later, we were given the option to tour the Old Quarters by Cyclo (think Rickshaw), or guided bus or walking tour.
Getting around Hanoi on a Cyclo!
Even though a light rain fell, I enjoyed walking the streets and visiting small shops in Hanoi. Everyone I met was super friendly and I acquired several pieces from local artists to add to my personal collection of art from the 79 countries I’ve visited.
VinHomes and VinUniversity
The Vingroup is in total, a Tour de Force. The Group’s “ecosystem” also includes vast real estate holdings through the Vinhomes wing, including Vinhomes Smart City, Vinhomes Dong Khoi, and Vinhomes Ocean Park; as well as an educational arm called VinUniversity that has students from many countries enrolled in high-tech curriculums in well-equipped education halls. Several students gave us a personal tour, and presented the school well through an auditorium presentation.
Last but certainly not least, we traveled by air to Nha Trang, and stayed of course at the Vinpearl Nha Trang Resort which included a super impressive amusement park. The resort is vast and super luxurious, and served as the base from where we would test drive pre-production models of the VF8, and examine a VF9 on display that we could sit in and inspect, but not actually drive yet.
As stated earlier, VinFast’s future goal is to manufacture electric-only vehicles by the end of 2022. The VF8 and VF9 are expected to be released for sale worldwide late this year into early 2023. Our test drive was fairly brief, over a several-mile course where our speeds got up to about 50 mph.
VinFast calls the VF8 a “Sophisticated Midsize eSUV That’s Premium Within Reach.” We agree as the level of luxury, comfort, and convenience in the VF8 belies its $42,299 starting price. The VF8 offers up to 292 miles of range via a 348 horsepower dual-motor, All-Wheel Drive (AWD) electric motor system, while the $57,500 VF9 offers up to 369 miles of range through a 402 horsepower, dual-motor AWD system.
Both vehicles feature myriad control modules that can be updated via Software Over The Air (SOTA) technology. Yes, full-electric vehicles have fewer mechanical components than gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t complex in their own unique way. Having SOTA capability should vastly increase the reliability of the platforms. For example, if you give VinFast engineers permission to remotely monitor your control modules, and a specific or continuing program fault is found in your car, engineers can “flash” affected modules to bring operating software back to within proper parameters through what VinFast calls “Invisible Service”. SOTA capability can save owners a trip to a VinFast service facility.
VF8 Drive Experience
Impressive! VinFast wisely poached leading automotive engineering and software development talent from across Europe, the U.S., and Asia, and it shows in how impressive the build quality of the VF8 is. According to David Lyon, Chief Designer for VinFast: “We’ve brought together the best in design, manufacturing, and technology to create the all-new VF8. By adopting a human-centric approach to design, we have been able to use our advanced technology in the service of a simple goal: to improve the lives of the people who drive our vehicles and the life of the planet.”
Before the drive, assembled media poured over the attractive, five-passenger Sport Utility Vehicle like sleuths with a magnifying glass, looking for telltale signs of shoddy quality or shortcuts in production. Even though we were driving pre-production vehicles, we found no significant flaws. During the drive, my size 15 shoes would catch the composite access panel on the lower dash when I would lift my foot from the accelerator to apply the brake. VinFast engineers had not experienced anyone with such Sasquatch-sized feet, and promised to make the necessary adjustments to the panel for folks with feet my size and larger before the VF8 reaches full production.
On the road course, the VF8 was quick, smooth, and serenely quiet. Engineers noted the attention to noise, vibration, and harshness when benchmarking VF8 operating parameters. Expect the more expensive VF9 to be even more impressive as the current flagship of the brand.
Pretty much everything you need to do to operate the VF8 and VF9 is accomplished through the high-tech infotainment system, which features a 15.6-inch interactive touchscreen display with over 30 Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered features, and natural language conversation through an AI voice assistant. A comprehensive Head Up Display is also standard.
The VinFast app is also super useful. Yes, you can do the usual things most car apps offer, like finding where you parked your car, remotely locking or unlocking it, and starting it to warm or cool the interior on cold or hot mornings. The app also features “Smart Home Control,” allowing you to turn on/off lights and more. You can, among other features, also stream video to the large touchscreen, and even sing Karaoke, order food and products online, and organize and be productive with the mobile office feature.
Standard high-tech safety features include Traffic Jam Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Automatic Lane Change Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Highway Driving Assist, Blind Spot Detection, Automatic Emergency Braking, and more. An advanced, high-tensile strength steel body shell helps keep passengers safe during severe collisions. The fully automated parking assist function seamlessly parallel or back-in park your vehicle for you. Summon Mode pulls the car out of spaces that might be too tight for a big guy like me to enter the vehicle.
The VF8 is available in two trim levels: Eco and Plus, with Plus offering more goodies like 20-inch wheels (versus 19-inch), leather versus leatherette, a full panoramic sunroof, and more.
Battery Subscription Program and Warranty
VinFast covers the VF8 with a 10-year/125,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. Owners can buy the battery outright or lease the main system battery through the Battery Subscription Program with several power/range options to suit what may be changing owner needs.
Lease customers pay a monthly fee for the entire period of ownership, and VinFast bears responsibility for battery repair, maintenance, and replacement for the life of the vehicle. If you sell your VF8, the lease is transferred to the new owner. Batteries are automatically replaced when charging capacity drops below 70%. Prices start at $169 per month for the VF8 (the higher range VF9 battery will start at $219 per month to lease).
Expect a rapid transition to ADAS, or Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (self-driving).
Also of note is VinFast’s decision to build a U.S. factory in North Carolina. The factory will create a major manufacturing center in Chatham County’s Triangle Innovation Point mega site, covering an area of 2,000 acres, with three main areas: electric car and bus production and assembly, EV battery production, and ancillary industries for suppliers.
Production at the North Carolina factory is expected to start in July 2024. The capacity of Phase 1 is expected to be 150,000 vehicles per year. The factory agreement includes the ability for VinFast to continue to invest in the factory in future phases. Vehicles to be produced at the site include the VinFast VF8 & VF9.
“North Carolina is quickly becoming the center of our country’s emerging, clean energy economy,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. “VinFast’s transformative project will bring many good jobs to our state, along with a healthier environment as more electric vehicles take to the road to help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
This project will generate thousands of jobs for local communities. The North Carolina Department of Commerce coordinated the state’s recruitment of VinFast, which also involved state, regional, and local organizations.
The future looks bright for the Vingroup and for VinFast. Our time in Vietnam was memorable, and we wish the brand the best as they enter the world EV market full steam ahead.
Vietnam, we’ll be back!
Pursuitist automotive and lifestyle contributor Brian Armstead has been involved in print, radio, web and television for over 47 years. Brian has traveled to 79 countries. He is a North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year (NACTOY) Juror.