First Look: 2022 VinFast VF e35 and e36
This Vietnam-based upstart is coming to Canada with these two new EVs—but can it take on its legacy rivals?
LOS ANGELES, California—Salvation from an otherwise tedious — as in slow, poorly attended, and with a severe lack of new model reveals — Los Angeles Auto Show came from a very unexpected source: VinFast. If you haven’t heard of VinFast, you’re not alone. The company is barely four years old, is largely unknown out of its home country of Vietnam, and has so far only produced cars built through licenses from BMW and General Motors.
More amazing still is that VinFast is, by automotive standards at least, a tiny little thing. Last year its total production was but 30,000 units; Toyota USA alone sells that many RAV4s pretty much every month. Some of those cars, as I said, are based on BMWs — the 5 Series and the X5 — for which it has a license from Munich to produce for its home market. Now mind you, these have been stylishly remodelled, but they are nonetheless store-bought engineering.
And yet CEO Michael Lohscheller is confident — indeed, very confident — that his fledgling little automaker is ready to take North America by storm. Perhaps it’s because VinFast is part of Vingroup, the largest conglomerate in Vietnam, which has already committed US$3.5 billion to the cause and hopes to be soon manufacturing as many as 250,000 cars a year. Or maybe it’s because Hanoi is already ranked as one of the most-polluted cities in Southeast Asia and all this chutzpah is just self-preservation in disguise. Whatever the reason for all the confidence, both the e35 and e36 will be built on platforms engineered, developed, and manufactured by VinFast.
And these cheap little runabouts aren’t targeting the lower echelons of the North American market. Both are – big surprise – SUVs, the smaller of the two, the e35, a compact sport-cute; while the larger e36 is a mid-sized sport utility. Both are battery-powered, of course, the 35 sporting 86 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion; while the e36 boasts some 90 kWh. And VinFast wins more than a few kudos by advertising the number of usable — or nominal — kilowatt-hours its EVs are capable of delivering, not the total on board.
In case you’re missing that reference, all electric vehicles keep a certain amount of battery capacity in reserve, since depleting a lithium-ion cell completely could cause irreparable damage. In this case, the e36’s 90-kWh rating pretty much guarantees there’s somewhere between 96 and 100 kilowatt-hours on board. Ford and Porsche are the only other automakers to rate their EVs this way, so kudos to VinFast.
As for other battery-related performance metrics, VinFast says that a 70-per-cent recharge could take as little as 15 minutes. But Lohscheller, a former Opel CEO — and Automotive News Europe’s Eurostar for his unexpected turnaround of that long-ailing company — is also hoping that its association with StoreDot, the Israeli purveyor of five-minute batteries, will usher in an era of even faster charging.
As for its impending North American rollout, VinFast promises the same aggressive approach. In fact, the company hopes to open as many as 60 showrooms in the United States next year, and perhaps a dozen or more here in Canada in the same time frame.
Taking a page out of the Tesla playbook, all of the company’s showrooms in Canada will be company-owned. Some will be sales-only outlets, while others will be more traditional sales-and-service dealerships. Like Genesis’ “at home” promise, VinFast claims it will offer to come to the owners for any required repair and will leave a loaner car if the service requires shop time.
It all sounds very promising. The question, however, remains whether such a seemingly small company with little history of automobile production can match the might of the legacy automakers, not to mention all the Silicon Valley-like startups the recent transformation to electric has conjured up. One thing is for sure: VinFast does not lack for ambition.