Thanks to The Electric community for the terrifically successful first-anniversary Live Chat with China expert Bob Galyen on Thursday. For those who missed it, we will post a recording here later this week.
This week, we examine a new Asian electric vehicle aspirant in the West—not China, but Vietnam. VinFast plans to deliver its first electric SUVs to customers in the U.S. and Europe toward the end of the year. But should we take the company seriously?
In the 1960s and 1970s, Japan broadsided a complacent U.S. automobile industry with first a trickle and then a flood of inexpensive, quality compacts that pushed out gas guzzlers and won the hearts of cash-strapped Americans. Starting in the 1980s, South Korea repeated the trick, undercutting the Japanese with models made by Hyundai and Kia that won their own chunk of the U.S. auto market. Now a new Asian player is putting down stakes in the U.S. No, it’s not China: VinFast, a Vietnamese automaker, is building a $2 billion electric vehicle assembly plant in North Carolina and opening showrooms in California as part of a strategy to capture a slice of the coming EV boom.
The force behind this surprising push into the U.S. market is Pham Nhat Vuong, the billionaire head of a Vietnamese empire that started with a small ramen business in Ukraine three decades ago and now includes resorts, homebuilding and smartphones. Though Pham began making automobiles just two years ago, he plans to deliver two SUV models to customers in the U.S. and Europe in just a few months, initially by shipping from Vietnam and later by making them in Chatham County, North Carolina. Next year, he plans to take the company public in the U.S.
These are plans of a dizzying scope: Tesla, launched almost two decades ago, remained chronically on the verge of bankruptcy until just two or three years ago. Neither Rivian nor Lucid Motors, both of which launched in the aughts, is guaranteed to survive the 2020s. The list goes on. Meanwhile VinFast emerged from a country with no history of delivering complex consumer products, under the leadership of a founder lacking experience in the auto business, who now wishes to launch EVs into two of the world’s toughest markets.