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Speed Scale Intent

News and Insights August 01, 2022

By: Eric Trytko
8 minute read

VinGroup/VinFast’s Introduction To The Rest Of The World

You’d be forgiven if you’d never heard of the company VinGroup, or its automotive subsidiary VinFast. But, unless you are connected to the Vietnamese community, there is no reason that you should have heard about VinGroup.

Their backstory goes something like this. The VinGroup Chairman spent several years in Ukraine selling dehydrated food products. Then, in the early 2000s, he returned home to Vietnam to begin developing real estate, which evolved into much more. Stepping back and looking at what the company has done, and are doing, provides scope and context to what they are trying to achieve in automotive.

Several people in the group brought up, given that Vietnam is a Communist country, how much ownership and or influence the government has. Their emphatic response was none. VinGroup is a private company. So, yes, as a Westerner, given what we’ve seen with China, you have your doubts, but for now, and until I see evidence to the contrary, I’ll take them at their word.

 

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The scope of what they have done and are doing and the time frames are flat-out awe-inspiring. The only thing close in modern times is Dubai. Take a few minutes and look at the transformation of Dubai from 2000 to the current times. That is happening in Vietnam with VinGroup.

VinGroup’s real estate is not just housing developments. They are literally creating small towns out of rice fields. One example we were shown was the Oceans development, which is currently in its third phase. Each of the stages is somewhere between 350 and 400 hectares. For those of us not metric, that converts to 865-988 acres or just over 2700 acres or 4.2 square miles. Oh, by the way, they have also built a university alongside this development that currently enrolls 400 students from Vietnam and 11 countries.

 

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Here is the real kicker, these developments have 20-30 30-story apartment complexes, a shopping mall, a lake for fishing, a lake for swimming, a shopping mall, and a hospital.  It takes VinGroup about 18 to 21 months to build these out. The university completed construction in just 14 months.  It is just one of many of these scale developments within the country.

VinGroup is also in the planning stages for something truly staggering, a 28,000-hectare green city from scratch. 28,000 hectares is 69,200 acres or 108 square miles. That is more than twice the size of San Francisco!

There will be no ICE vehicles allowed. They will be recycling all brown and grey water. “Live” buildings that have solar integrated into the exterior glass. The list goes on.

Circling back to how vertically integrated VinGroup is in building essentially small towns, they have private hospitals, schools, resorts, residential and commercial real estate, various tech ventures, and now automotive.

Automotive production

This brings us to their latest venture, VinFast. The first vehicles the company is bringing to the U.S. are the VF8 and VF9. Down the road, a bit is the VF7, all of them are crossover/SUV type vehicles and all pure EVs.

 

VinFast Campus

We had the opportunity to tour the VinFast campus, where they manufacture cars, crossover/SUVs, and scooters. This is a substantial-sized campus, almost 900 acres, or 1.5 square miles, with plenty of room to grow. Everything here was constructed, from draining rice fields to producing three models of cars in 21 months. 

I had the chance to speak with Shawn Carver, Deputy CEO and Plant Manager. He walked me through the logistics of building the campus and plants. They were unloading multiple containers every hour, placing equipment directly onto the production floor with GPS coordinates, and bolting them down. He said they would use this same method to build their factory in North Carolina.

Battery Factory

 

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VinFast is building its own battery pack. They have been sourcing the cells from companies like Samsung and other well-known names in that segment. However, they are in the process of building their own cells and plan to have that portion of the battery plant up and running by Q4 of this year.

 

VinFast Battery Layout

The VinFast VF8 and VF9

The VF8 is a two-row crossover about the same size as a Honda CR-V, and the VF9 is a three-row crossover size similar to the Kia Telluride. The VF7 will be a smaller two-row crossover.  VF8 and VF9 are not built on the same platform, but they share a significant number of parts.

 

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Taking significant inspiration from Tesla, there is a large center screen holding nearly all the controls and information for the vehicles. For example, there are physical buttons for the transmission, and there is a volume knob of the audio system but no button to turn the car on or off.

Thankfully VinFast has included a Heads Up Display so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to look at your speed as you do with the Tesla Model 3 and Y.

 

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The center display is bright. It’s responsive, and there is logic to how it’s laid out. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. In talking with one of the engineers at the event, VinFast is very much about using voice commands to do operations rather than using the touch screen. Several issues with this. Voice command only works when you have a cellular signal. It can be inconsistent in its response. Lastly, data shows that using voice commands takes up more mental power than reaching over using buttons and knobs to make changes.

The fascination with moving controls to a screen is about reducing costs primarily. You don’t have to spend the time, money, and resources to validate switches. It is a software change if you want to change things or add more controls.  It also looks sexy. The problem is that it’s all great while static, but driving is dynamic, and all the controls being on a screen and often having to dig through two or three layers of menus to get to an item creates distracted driving.

 

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Brief Test Drive

What are the vehicles like to drive? I had the opportunity to drive a pre-production VF8. Overall it’s a fine vehicle, and the interior materials are appropriate for the segment. Given that this was a pre-production vehicle, there were several issues that needed to be addressed, but the engineers were very willing to listen. They took photos and notes as not only myself, but several other journalists and analysts gave them feedback.

 

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The VF8 was remarkably unremarkable that generally is a good thing. It’s good that they’ve done very well for a first effort. On the other hand, it can be viewed as not a good thing in that not only is this a new company no one is familiar with, it comes from a country with little track record in building cars for the Western world. They should probably have made a bigger splash with materials to stand out.

 

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Go To Market Strategy

One of the other major talking points about VinFast is that they want to sell you the car but lease you the battery. As a group, we had the chance to ask questions of the Global CEO, Madame Thuy.

One of the reasons that VinFast wanted to take this approach was to offer cars at a competitive price to ICE cars, given that batteries are the most expensive part of the car. I had the chance to ask Madame Thuy two questions. The first was about the pricing strategy.

 

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Given that more than 80, perhaps close to 90% of vehicles priced north of $40,000 are leased, why lease a battery and lease a car? She indicated that this has come up in talking with people in North America and Europe, where the vehicles will also be sold. They also lease at about the same level. Madame Thuy indicated they are working with lenders so that there would not be two payments. Instead, it would be combined into one to make it easier for the customer.

The second question I asked was about their dealer network. Given that VinFast is going with a direct-to-consumer model and that several states do not allow this, how would they handle it?  Madame Thuy said they were open to working with “partners.” So take that as, if they can not get exemptions from states, they would find dealer networks to work with.

 

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VinFast Leadership Team

I’d like to talk about Madame Thuy. She did more than just make an appearance, a speech, and then disappear. She was visible and open to conversations throughout the day and was available for dinner discussions. She was also on the dance floor.

Having seen her in action and watched her interact with several people, I pooled the opinion of several journalists who are highly experienced in talking and interacting with CEOs in the industry to see if they had the same impression I did. The short answer is yes, they were all highly impressed with her. She was genuine and forthright. It never felt as if you were being given a response that the PR team had spent weeks perfecting. 

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The natural comparison is to compare and contrast her with Mary Barra, the GM CEO. But, again, they all had the same opinion that Madame Thuy was far more impressive than Barra.

What The Future Holds

Three or four years ago, I had a conversation with Ed Kim, now the President and Chief Analyst of AutoPacific, a leading automotive analyst firm, and Stephanie Brinley, Principal Analyst--Americas, formerly at IHS Markit, now at S&P Global at the Detroit Auto Show.  We hypothesized that EVs would finally be the gateway for the Chinese auto industry to make inroads into the North American market. After all, there has been talk for a decade about how they were the next wave. However, in the back half of 2022, there is little talk now of a push from them, unless you count Polestar, the Volvo EV brand, as Geely owns Volvo. Other than that, crickets.

Yet here is VinFast, from Vietnam, and they are looking to move 150,000 units in the US and Canada very quickly. The plant they are building in North Carolina will have a capacity of just over 150,000 units with room to expand.

Madame Thuy mentioned that one of the core philosophies of VinGroup and VinFast is that if you take five minutes or five months, in the end, you come to the same conclusion. So they operate on the five-minute principle that if you make a mistake, it will be addressed quickly, and you are still ahead of the game.

Given what the parent company VinGroup has done in other areas, it’s hard not to be impressed with what is possible and their ambitions for the future. The leadership team is smart, driven, and highly motivated to succeed. It took the Japanese automakers 25-30 years to become mainstream in North America. It took the Koreans about half that time. Will VinFast half that time again? We shall see as VinFast has opened six stores in Southern California, with many more throughout the country to open soon. As mentioned, they are looking to sell 150,000 units a year very quickly.

After spending a week with their team, I do not underestimate what they can accomplish.

Old Quarter

 

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