Vietnam’s first automaker is quickly getting ready to debut a sedan and a SUV

There are plenty of successful car companies in Asia, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai immediately coming to mind, with scores of Chinese wannabes aiming to take advantage of the growth of that huge market. But the struggles of Indonesia’s Proton show just difficult it can be to start up from scratch.

A visit to VinFast’s manufacturing complex revealed key elements of the strategy the company hopes will allow it to emerge almost overnight as a major automotive player. That starts with putting a premium on the latter half of VinFast’s name. The company is moving at breakneck speed.

Even as monsoon-level rains threatened to wash the Haiphong complex back into the sea, workers were racing to complete construction in time to launch retail production of VinFast’s first products: two passenger cars and a line of electric scooters, by the second quarter of 2019, barely two years after preliminary work on the site got underway.

That’s all the more amazing when one considers that even for well-established automakers, it typically takes four to six years to go from concept to production of an all-new vehicle. DeLuca boasted, “We’re doing in 24 months what most OEMs need up to 60 months to do.”

Key to pulling that off, VinFast has lined up a strong list of partners, including ABB, Bosch, Magna Steyr and Siemens. It also convinced BMW to license the underlying architecture, or platform, for those first two models. But Dave Lyon, another former GM exec who is heading VinFast’s design operations, insisted the company’s cars “won’t be clones” of the BMW 5-Series sedan and X5 SUV.

The Vietnamese company convinced several European design houses, including Italdesign and Pininfarina, to come up with unique styling for those midsize models and, in a highly unusual move, it asked the Vietnamese public to vote on the designs they liked best. At that point, a traditional car company would have sculpted clay models, beginning a process that, just from the design side, could’ve taken several years. Instead, VinFast and Pininfarina, which won the styling shoot-out, worked almost entirely in the digital realm, cutting the development time by more than half.

With Vuong’s blessings, DeLuca has put together a dream team of automotive veterans from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Asia, challenging them to find ways to break with traditional industry practices to save time and reduce costs — even while putting an emphasis on quality.

“Being best doesn’t always mean it has to be the most expensive,” stressed Shaun Calvert, VinFast’s vice president of manufacturing.

The real test will come in the months ahead. The stamping, paint, engine and paint plants were all empty shells during a late August tour of the VinFast complex. The first tools were just going in at the engine plant that will produce a licensed version of a BMW 2.0-liter inline-four set to power those first two models. But the Vietnamese automaker plans to have everything in place by the end of the year for the first pilot vehicles to start rolling down the line. Production of models that can be sold will launch during the second quarter.

And the VinFast team is already working on two more products that it is scheduling for production by autumn 2019: a microcar and an electric vehicle.

The decision to debut with the more expensive models, explained DeLuca, was meant to create a “halo” around the VinFast brand, showing what it is capable of doing, but the smaller models to follow have, by far, the greater volume potential.

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