The newest contender on Canada’s burgeoning electric vehicle market, VinFast might be tiny in terms of output (30,000 units last year), but it’s a powerhouse in terms of investments and ambitions. At the moment, its output comes from its Hai Phong manufacturing complex in Vietnam. However, the word is out that a US plant could open in 2024.
Less than five years old, this auto-maker is almost unknown outside its homeland. But as a member of VinGroup – the largest conglomerate in Vietnam – it’s underwritten by lavish commitments of US$ 3.5 billion, with an output planned to top 250,000 vehicles a year.
SUV Launches in North America
Gearing up to take North America by storm from its headquarters in Los Angeles, VinFast plans to leapfrog the entire cute urban runabout market with its two debut SUVs: the full-size VF e36 and its smaller sibling, the VF e35. Signed by Pininfarina with a stylised V motif on their grilles, the two electric crossovers were the unexpected stars of an otherwise ho-hum year at the 2021 Los Angeles Auto Show.
Although the interior of the larger model was not complete, the mid-size VF e35 appeared ready to drive straight out of the exhibition onto the road. Both will be sold through some sixty company-owned dealerships that will be opened (mainly in California) during the next eighteen months.
US Plant in 2024
VinFast CEO Michael Lohscheller (an Opel, Mitsubishi, and Volkswagen veteran) notes that both these models are 99.9% ready for the North American market, currently being tested and ratified. So if everything goes to plan with its assertive global expansion plan, Canadians could also be driving made-in-Vietnam electric SUVs by late 2022.
During the second half of 2024, VinFast is planning to open a plant in the USA. Regardless of its location, the VinFast CEO explained that he expects its operations supply chain to lean heavily on Canadian vendors.
Having produced rebadged cars under licence from Chevrolet, VinFast has also built up significant experience through producing BMWs, stylishly remodelled for its home market but with ready-made engineering. Buoyed by confidence in its experience and expertise, VinFast will build its e35 and e36 electric crossovers on platforms that have been engineered, developed, and produced this Vietnamese trailblazer.
The VinFast plan of attack for North America is to offer premium products at affordable prices. Although no figures have yet been released for these markets, VinFast is selling EVs at an attractive US$ 30,000 in Vietnam.
With the cheapest Tesla now topping US$ 47,000, these electric crossovers could well be budget-friendly alternatives for Canadian drivers, especially if they qualify for benefits like the $5,000 federal rebate, with some provincial eco-incentives reaching $8,000. Assuming that they are offered under the same long-term auto financing as their competitors, the VF e36 and e35 will slot smoothly into family budgets.
Generous Warranty: a massive plus factor for Canadians coping with tough weather conditions, both models come with warranties that are unusually long, at ten years. Another comparative advantage is that they cover the entire vehicle, not just the battery, with lower repair and maintenance costs.
Batteries: Range, Rent, and Recharge
Both battery-powered, a 70% recharge could take only fifteen minutes for both the VF e35 and VF e36, using current technology. However, VinFast expects to offer even faster charging in the near future, through its association with Israel’s StoreDot, which specialises in batteries that recharge in just five minutes.
In an innovative approach that might well bring the higher purchase price of these EVs down to levels closer to regular vehicles, VinFast customers will be able to rent battery packs separately, at fees similar to monthly gas outlays.
Features In Common
Leaving their drivers free to watch the road, the VF e36 and e35 will be keeping an eye on everything else, through fourteen cameras, nineteen 360-degree sensors and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) remote sensing systems. Preliminary specifications for both models also include dual-motor all-wheel drives, as well as two battery options.
Bearing in mind that all EVs reserve fair amounts of battery capacity to avoid damaging their lithium-ion power sources through full depletion, their 90-kWh rating hints that their actual kilowatt-hours are close to 100. Estimated at 460 to 680 kilometers, their actual driving ranges depend on battery size and model. These figures are based on the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) that is used to measure vehicle fuel consumption, as well as CO2 and other pollutant emissions.
With integrated Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) like lane assist, collision warning, driver monitoring, summon vehicle, and fully automated parking, both crossovers are fitted with smart infotainment hubs that include in-car control features such as virtual assistant, voice assistant, and e-commerce services. Their maximum power is tipped to reach 300 kW (402 hp) of maximum power, with a maximum torque of 640 Nm (472 lb-ft).
Differences Between the VF e35 and e36
- The VF e35 is a compact model with a dynamic balance styling language that adds a sporty touch to its traditional lines. Its two battery options deliver an impressive range of up to 550 kilometers, while electronic driver-assist features include automatic parking and a collision warning system, as well as location-based advertising and videogames. Scheduled to drive out of VinFast’s Canadian showrooms in the last quarter of 2022, pre-ordering begins during the first half of the year.
- Planned for arrival in Canada during the early months of 2023, the VF e36 is a three-row sport utility with a rugged and more muscular look that still retains signature VF details like its front and rear lights. Its dual-motor powertrain is designed to generate a generous combined 402 HP, with a range is extended by aerodynamic features that include flush door handles, tapering side glass and a sloping roofline, as well as hood and front-end air curtains that redirect air from high-drag areas. Premium attractions include adaptive LED headlights and a panoramic glass roof, as well as a head-high display, and a 15.4” infotainment screen, plus the same driver-assist features as the E35.
Direct Sales, Not Dealerships
Following in Tesla’s successful footsteps, VinFast is planning to open at least a dozen showrooms in Canada during 2022, rising to 38 outlets by year-end 2023, all company-owned. Some will operate as traditional sales+service dealerships, while others will focus only on sales. And with an ambitious goal of selling 15,000 units in 2022, it seems likely that this Vietnamese carmaker will also offer low-interest car loans, through partnering with one or more Canadian financial institutions.
Although the exact locations of its outlets are still being defined, the most probable sites are downtown hubs, malls, and suburbs around major cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Regardless of their locations, customers can expect plenty of communications from VinFast, according to its Chief Growth Officer for Canada, Hans Ulsrud.
Eager to develop a community of fans around this brand, he believes that Vietnam’s traditional service culture is a secret weapon for this new marque. In the crowded automotive sector, where many customers are pleased with product quality, but not satisfied with service levels, attentive customer service is a great way for VinFast to make its name.
Example: VinFast plans to keep its customers happy through at-home services, with loaner cars provided if shop facilities are required for more complex repairs.
Curiosity is already running high: can this Vietnam-based newcomer compete with its long-legacy rivals in Canada? Only time will tell whether VinFast can build up the momentum needed to establish its name as a major player in Canada’s booming auto market.