There’s a new startup car company – VinFast – looking to revolutionize the world of personal transportation. These days, that’s not very surprising to read. What is surprising is how this new car company is Vietnamese, and will be producing a home-grown sedan and SUV.
These first two rides will be produced at a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in northern Vietnam.
In 1992, Neal Stephenson wrote this book called Snow Crash. It’s a pretty interesting book, and there’s a passage in it I was reminded of when this press release wafted across my digital transom:
“When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we’ve brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they’re making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y’know what? There’s only four things we do better than anyone else: . . . “
Or, to put it in more modern terms: “You think Detroit’s got problems now? Wait until they start banging out the 2028 Camaro in Ho Chi Minh City.”
The question is not can they, but when will they. And, if now is the time it all starts, are VinFast the people to do it? We will find out relatively soon, because we’ll be able to see both an SUV and sedan at the Paris Motor Show this coming October. Oh, and they don’t seem to be doing things by half, since both rides are being developed by Pininfarina.
VinFast says their cars are developed to “international standards,” meaning they want to compete with the available offerings in Munich and Los Angeles and London. That’s biting off a lot, first time around. And to make this even more interesting, VinFast crowd-sourced the designs, with the Vietnamese people voting on their favorites from a range of options presented in October 2017.
Yes, VinFast is going from design kick off to debut in one year. And these first two models will be for sale in Vietnam by September 2019. All the while Vinfast says their upcoming twins will “meet international standards and customer expectations in terms of design, quality, dynamics, premium in-car features, and the ownership experience.”
It’s at this point where things turn rather run-of-the-mill concerning the finer points of VinFast. They will be working with “world-leading” European design, engineering, and production technology partners, but they don’t tell you who those partners are, apart from Pininfarina. In the boardroom, VinFast has also recruited senior executives from some of the industry’s “leading automotive companies,” but they don’t mention who those senior executives are, or from which automotive companies they were recruited.
VinFast is not all vapor and marketing smoke. They are nearly finished with construction of their purpose-built, state-of-the-art 335-hectare plant in Hai Phong, making it one of Vietnam’s biggest industrial projects ever. And yeah, that’s the same Hai Phong that Dick Nixon decided to mine and bomb in 1972.
Also, it’s worth noting that VinFast’s corporate owners, Vingroup, is one of Vietnam’s largest, privately-held businesses, with annual revenues in 2017 of 3.8 billion USD. Which is good, because designing and building cars from scratch takes a lot of money.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. His forthcoming new book The Future In Front of Me, The Past Behind Me will be available soon. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz