Just as legacy OEMs are jumping into the EV race, newcomers and startups are set to enter the North American market within the next year or so. Today, a glance at electric vehicle sales numbers finds Tesla dominating with 67% market share, but that figure is slowly falling as the competition heats up. Volkswagen Group, Ford and Korean automakers trail behind, eager to bite into Tesla’s success. Here to spice things up are newcomers like Rivian, Fisker, Lucid and a half-dozen other boutique automakers.
Overseas, two established EV players are poised to join the fun as well. While Chinese EV success story NIO hasn’t made any commitments, aspiring Vietnamese automaker VinFast is ready to break ground in America. How will this emerging vehicle segment evolve over the next 2-3 years? Whatever happens, it’s looking increasingly likely that VinFast will be a part of the story.
Who Is VinFast?
The 2021 LA Auto Show was all about EVs. No one lingered around the occasional displays of cross-cut engines or propped-open hoods. Yet every electric vehicle booth was packed. One of the many oddities and spectacles at the auto show was VinFast, who (almost) nobody had heard of. It almost sounds like the name of a rebranding online car seller who gets your title to you in less than a month. Founded in 2017, VinFast is the automotive wing of Vingroup, a private Vietnamese conglomerate active in tech, retail, industrial development and service industries. Now worth over $35 billion, Vingroup had humble beginnings as a food processing company working out of Ukraine in the early 1990s.
VinFast first set foot in America in the summer of 2020. That was a pretty horrible time to be launching any kind of business venture, but VinFast stuck with it. With an extensive history and enough capital to get the ball rolling, automotive industry analysts are marveling at the pace of VinFast. At the LA Auto Show, VinFast US CEO Van Anh Nguyen told TechCrunch about their expansion plans. Here’s what the ambitious automaker has in store in just the first half of this decade:
- $200 million for building a headquarters and support infrastructure in California
- Hiring 1,000 employees in California, including 400 at the new headquarters
- Opening 60 sales locations
- Opening multiple service centers and mobile service providers
- Building a VinFast factory in America by the end of 2024
- Two VinFast SUVs launching in the US soon
With this roadmap in mind, it’s no surprise that VinFast is eyeing an IPO into the US stock market. Rumor has it that they’re shooting for a $60 billion valuation.
Batteries Not Included?
When VinFast announced their new 15,000 square-foot headquarters, they also shared some details about future product launches. VinFast followed through on their pledge to officially debut two of its first electric SUVs, the VF 8 and VF 9, at the 2021 LA Auto Show. There’s one aspect in particular that lends so much confidence to VinFast’s growth strategy. Much of their research and development has been focused on streamlining and automating vehicle manufacturing processes. Sound familiar? That’s how a certain American company (starts with a T, ends with an A) overcame the many burdens of production ramp-up. In fact, Tesla was the first American car manufacturer to successfully ramp up automotive production in nearly 100 years. If VinFast has scalable growth in mind, their likelihood of success is far greater than the average EV startup.
VinFast’s approach to EV production isn’t all good news for the consumer. Automotive News recently reported on VinFast’s plan to NOT include a battery pack as part of the standard equipment when the vehicle is purchased. Instead, car buyers will lease a battery pack from VinFast. I guess that’s one way to guarantee a revenue stream!
How Much Is a VinFast Battery Lease?
Renting a battery pack from VinFast won’t be cheap. Unless, of course, you intend to purchase an EV that comes without the usual fuel savings associated with going electric. VinFast Global CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy said the two battery pack options will cost between $100 and $150 PER MONTH. They say the battery leasing model would buffer EV buyers from the risk of degraded battery performance over time. They’ll replace the battery if it falls below 70 percent of its initial charging capacity. The thing is, today’s EVs still retain over 80% of their initial charging capacity with well over 100,000 miles on the odometer. This would have been a reasonable strategy a decade ago, when early battery tech was on shaky, experimental ground. Now, it’s a solution in search of a problem.
Below is the official announcement from VinFast, showing the pricing tiers for the VinFast VF 8 and VF 9. VinFast battery subscription plans range from $110 to $160 per month on the VinFast Fixed Plan, and $35 to $44 per month on the VinFast Flexible plan, which includes just 310 miles of driving per month.
Why would anyone buy a new car knowing they will have to pay an extra $150 every month for the required battery? That would only work if the car itself sells for ridiculously cheap. We’ll see, but I’m skeptical.
Imagine if Apple required you to purchase a battery for the IPhone separately. The behemoth wouldn’t be where they are today with such a critical product miscalculation. Will VinFast SUVs overcome this looming and unnecessary product feature? Or will they reverse course before launching US sales?
VinFast Models in 2022
Enough with the negativity. At the 2021 LA Auto Show, VinFast shared two impressive electric concepts. They intend to bring both to production very soon, and both will be sold in the US market. The VF 8 (formerly dubbed the e35) and VF 9 (formerly e36) are two fully-electric SUVs that feature advanced driver-assistance systems and a suite of smart features. Both VinFast SUVs are designed by Italian design firm Pininfarina, and the result is pleasant to look at.
The smaller VF 8 is advertised for up to 310 miles of range on a charge. Stepping up to the larger VF 9 will get you 301 miles of range with the (rented) standard battery, or buyers can opt for the bigger battery that’s good for 422 miles.
Aside from the range figures and pretty images, not a whole lot is known about these two SUVs. The VinFast website shows an interior with a 15” Tesla-style touchscreen front and center. What they do make clear on the website is that interested buyers are welcome to place a reservation for $200. Reservations placed before April qualify for a $3,000 to $5,000 voucher for their VinFast SUV of choice.
VinFast pricing starts at $41,000 for the crossover-styled VF 8, and $56,000 for the larger VF 9 SUV. Power is impressive, yet nothing to write home about. Check out the full VinFast pricing and spec details below. The automaker does make it abundantly clear that this information is subject to change.
I want VinFast to succeed in their North American expansion. Greater competition among automakers almost always results in savings for the consumer. But batteries not included? $150 every month for something that literally comes with every single other electric vehicle in the world? Come on. I hope VinFast sees the reality of the situation and the expectations of the American buyer.
What do you think? Are you willing to give VinFast a chance, or are they wasting their time with this battery nonsense? How affordable would the car have to be for this sales model to work? Let us know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you might be willing to give the VinFast ownership experience a try.
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