When a new foreign automaker with existing vehicle manufacturing experience arrives at an American auto show with flashy prototype cars, slick marketing videos and grandiose plans to sell its cars domestically, we generally react with well-founded skepticism. I mean, we’ve been here before — half a dozen Chinese automakers have claimed over the past two decades that they would be opening sales and distribution networks in the U.S. within a couple of years, which we’ve yet to see.
At the 2021 Los Angeles Auto Show, a newcomer appeared with the same kinds of promises: a company called VinFast. Turns out, one of the biggest corporate conglomerates in Southeast Asia is a Vietnamese company called Vingroup, a $35 billion juggernaut with interests in everything from supermarkets and educational services to hospitals and real estate development. The VinFast subsidiary was created in 2017 as the company’s automotive group, building cars for the domestic Vietnamese market and select export markets, like Russia.
The lineup in the home market has been a mix of heavily restyled, joint-venture vehicles, including the BMW-based LUX A2.0 sedan (based off the previous-generation 5 Series) and the LUX AS2.0 SUV (similarly based off an older X5). The automaker reportedly delivered its first electric SUV, badged the VF e34, to customers back in December 2021.
But VinFast would very much like to be the next automaker to be able to add the word “global” before the word “automaker.” To do so, it has announced plans to massively invest in new, fully modern electric SUVs for sale in North America and Europe, and it put a very emphatic stamp on that claim by revealing three “concepts” it plans to produce: the VF e35 and VF e36, first shown in Los Angeles and since rebadged as the VF 8 and VF 9, and a smaller VF 6 that was shown in January 2022 at CES in Las Vegas.
In this regard, it would seem that the company is taking a page out of the Hyundai/Kia playbook, hiring experienced global automotive executives and designers to help create and engineer the brand’s vehicle lineup, including people like David Lyon, director of design for VinFast since 2017 and former executive director of interior design and brand strategic design at General Motors North America for many years. The company is also contracting with experienced global automotive suppliers like famed Italian design house Pininfarina to style its vehicles and German supplier ZF for things like advanced driver assistance systems.