Vietnamese automaker VinFast has been in the car business for four years, its first cars being a badge-engineered BMWs licensed from Munich and a re-badged Chevrolet Spark for VinFast's home market. Part of the VinGroup conglomerate founded by Vietnam's now-richest man, and now run by Run by ex-Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller, the upstart has huge plans for expanding globally. Those plans truly begin with the VinFast VF e35 and VF 36 battery-electric crossovers introduced at this year's LA Auto Show, both penned by the Pininfarina design firm, and the North American headquarters the company has invested $200 million in to build in Los Angeles.
The e35 is about an inch shorter in length than a Kia Niro. Other markets could get an even smaller e34, but the U.S. backstop will be the e35. VinFast said the standard battery pack will provide a usable 86 kWh, without mentioning the pack's actual kilowatt-hours, but a larger pack will be an option. The smaller pack is claimed to be good for about 285 miles on a charge, the larger pack extending that to roughly 310 miles, although it's not clear if those are European WLTP or U.S. EPA ratings.
We're not sure which powertrain specification the U.S. will get, either, but globally the model will be offered in single-motor form with 201 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, a dual-motor version doubling those figures. The dual-motor powertrains should get the e35 to 62 miles per hour in 5.5 seconds, the e36 to the mark in 6.5 seconds.
The e35 and e36 are handsome if unassuming crossovers, known by their "V" motifs in the grille and taillight signature, and the Venturi-like C-pillar on the e36. The e35 on the LA show floor was fitted with a finished interior sporting a 15.4 inch touchscreen and no gauge cluster. VinFast design chief David Lyon explained the lack of instrumentation with, "Our vehicles all have a full-color, windshield-projection head-up display. It's a very open, spacious interior. You interface with the steering-wheel controls to operate the vehicle, your hands are on the wheel, and your eyes are on the road." While drivers are watching the road, the e35 will be watching everything, said to be equipped with 14 cameras, LIDAR, and 19 360-degree sensors.
The three-row e36 extends 201 inches, about three inches longer than a Ford Explorer. The show model didn't have an interior, but it seems likely the e36 will follow the lead of the e35. The same general battery arrangement goes for the e36, a smaller standard 90-kWh pack claimed to be good for 301 miles, a larger pack pushing that to 423 miles. Fast-charging will restore 70 percent of a pack's juice in 15 minutes.
As part of a larger tech conglomerate, VinFast will tap other arms in the VinGroup for features like VinAI, Vantix, and VinBigData for AI-enabled driver assistance features such as driver and traffic monitoring, fully automated parking, and vehicle summoning. VinGroup will tap its outside investments for additional capability in its offerings, like Singapore-based Temasek for the Autobrains self-learning AI for autonomous driving, and StoreDot, an Israeli battery developer working on extreme fast charging.
VinFast plans to open pre-orders for both in the first half of next year, focusing on California first, with first deliveries scheduled for Q4 2022. Initial production takes place at the automaker's plant in Hai Phong, Vietnam, but it has plans for a U.S. facility by the end of 2024. Between now and then, the company is working on setting up 60 company-owned showrooms across the country and more in Canada. Repairs will be handled via an at-home service, or VinFast will deliver a loaner car to customers when a car needs to come in for repairs. The company is also figuring out its strategy for setting up charging stations nationwide; the country is rolling out 40,000 stations in Vietnam, a country a little smaller than the state of Montana.
Other than intending premium offering with "attractive pricing," MSRPs haven't been mentioned. Lohscheller said the company wants to make sure it gets its brand positioned properly first. To help encourage adoption of an unknown brand from a country few could point out on a map, both models will come with a 10-year warranty that covers the battery as well. If buyers are worried about getting left behind by rapid advances in battery tech in the coming years, they can buy the vehicle but lease the battery, swapping for an upgraded pack when it is available.