Exclusive: Chime’s Slowdown Highlights Limits of Bank DisruptorsRead more

On Saturday in Haiphong, Vietnam, VinFast unveiled the first electric vehicles it will deliver to the U.S. and Europe in the coming weeks. Photo: Yen Duong/Bloomberg

The Electric: Vietnam Has Made a Surprising EV—but it Will Have to Drop the Price

By  |  Sept. 11, 2022 2:00 PM PDT
Photo: On Saturday in Haiphong, Vietnam, VinFast unveiled the first electric vehicles it will deliver to the U.S. and Europe in the coming weeks. Photo: Yen Duong/Bloomberg

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.

Access on the go
View stories on our mobile app and tune into our weekly podcast.
Join live video Q&A’s
Deep-dive into topics like startups and autonomous vehicles with our top reporters and other executives.
Enjoy a clutter-free experience
Read without any banner ads.
Microsoft's Satya Nadella, left, and Peter Lee. Photo by Bloomberg, Microsoft
How Microsoft Swallowed Its Pride to Make a Massive Bet on OpenAI
Satya Nadella didn’t want to hear it. Last December, Peter Lee, who oversees Microsoft’s sprawling research efforts, was briefing Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, and his deputies about a series of tests Microsoft had conducted of GPT-4, the then-unreleased new artificial intelligence large-language model built by OpenAI.
Chris Britt, co-founder and CEO of Chime.
Exclusive startups Finance
Chime’s Slowdown Highlights Limits of Bank Disruptors
Chime found a way to offer zero-fee banking services without being a bank itself. But that approach is starting to show its limits.
Art by Clark Miller
The AI Age e-commerce ai
How to Grease a Chatbot: E-Commerce Companies Seek a Backdoor Into AI Responses
When Andy Wilson’s company received its first successful client referral through ChatGPT, he was shaken to his core.
Art by Clark Miller
The Big Read markets Finance
The Master of Destruction Rides Again
In the spring of 2022, the irascible Wall Street short seller Marc Cohodes was in a particularly foul mood.
Art by Mike Sullivan
startups asia
Venture Capitalists Face Pressure to Divest From China
Silicon Valley venture capitalists are coming to terms with a new reality: Their once-prized China investments may be victims of a simmering cold war.
Art by Clark Miller.
Social Studies culture
The Day TikTok Went Dark in India
On June 29, 2020, as thunderstorms swept Mumbai and daily Covid-19 cases in India surged by almost 20,000, millions of people began experiencing a flood of network errors on their mobile devices.