The problem is that Vietnam’s first automaker is struggling to sell the first of its EVs to go into production. VinFast has some wild plans for the future. Make that the VF Wild, the all-electric pickup the Vietnamese automaker unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, along with the pint-sized two-door VF 3 SUV.
Featuring innovations like a bed extender and a pass-through mid-gate, the VF Wild takes aim at the growing U.S. market for midsize pickups, targeting existing gas-powered models like the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, and Chevrolet Colorado.
“This is not just a new product in our offering — it showcases our aspiration to venture into the fast-paced and thriving electric pickup truck market,” Tran Mai Hoa, VinFast’s deputy chief executive for sales and marketing, said during a CES presentation.
VinFast: Bold Plans — Questionable Future
Founded barely 8 years ago in the Vietnamese port city of Haiphong, VinFast has laid out some bold ambitions, especially since it announced plans to go all-electric at the 2021 LA Auto Show. It previously revealed an assortment of show cars, from the compact VF5 SUV to the more luxurious, three-row VF9.
The problem is that VinFast is still struggling to gain traction with its first model to reach U.S. showrooms, the VF8. The first boatload of 999 EVs arrived in the U.S. in December 2022, but sales were delayed for months. Worse, the midsize SUV received generally harsh reviews, with reviewers finding a variety of faults, particularly with the VF8’s electronics.
Its stock price tumbled, and losses deepened, VinFast reporting a third-quarter deficit of $623 million. Increasingly short of cash, the company turned to its publicity-shy founder, Pham Nhat Vuong, last year for a $1 billion cash infusion.
The Noodle Man
The 55-year-old Vuong is the Vietnamese equivalent of Horatio Alger, the archetypal self-made man. He went to college in Moscow shortly after the Vietnam War ended, and then borrowed a reported $40,000 to set up an instant noodle company in Ukraine. He eventually sold that to Nestlé for $150 million.
Vuong took that money back to Vietnam where he set up VinFast’s parent, the VinGroup, diversifying into spas and resorts, apartment complexes, high-end shopping malls, and even schools and hospitals. While some operations have been sold off, he is listed as the richest man in Vietnam, and the first man from that country to crack into the billionaires list compiled by Forbes.
Meet the New Boss
As of this week, Vuong is also the VinFast CEO, taking over from Le Thi Thu Thuy who will now serve as managing director. It’s the latest in a steady exodus of senior management over the last 2 years that one former executive told me has led to trouble keeping programs on track and on time — something he said, on background, led to the problems with the VF8.
In several recent interviews with me over the last few months, former CEO Thuy insisted that the company is learning “fast,” in line with its name. And, she expects that it will not only fix the problems with its first model but will also make sure those issues don’t repeat with future products.
That helps explain VinFast’s decision to delay the launch of the VF9, which will target more demanding premium buyers, as well as smaller offerings like the VF6 and VF7 which were also due about now.
VinFast Goes Wild
The automaker certainly will have to get things right before bringing a pickup into its small but growing network of dealers. Truck buyers are both demanding and traditional brand loyal. And, as the recently announced production cuts of the Ford F-150 Lightning underscores, they’re still skeptical about going electric.
The VFWild show car is just slightly smaller than a Tacoma or Ranger. But, it offers a similar interior space and a full 5-foot cargo bed. It does this by taking advantage of a skateboard-style platform that moves its battery pack and motors below the load floor, freeing up space otherwise required for an engine compartment.
The VFWild concept adopts a somewhat more stylish exterior than the typically boxy midsize truck. But there are two features that could prove particularly appealing. The VinFast concept features an extendable bed that adds as much as 3 feet of usable space. And that’s before taking into account the foldaway mid-gate that, when the back row of seats is folded down, lets cargo — whether lumber or a surfboard — extend into the cabin.
As for the VF3, the little SUV is already on sale in Vietnam and has gained substantial traction in that market and a couple of other parts of Asia.
Whether it will play in the U.S. is another question. Much more boxy than anything else the automaker is working on, it could appeal to buyers looking for a Mini Countryman-sized product — but in this case, priced in the $20,000 range.
VinFast: What’s Next?
VinFast officials indicated they’re seriously interested in launching both the VF3 and VFWild into the U.S. market. Of course, they’ll need to be sure there’s a market for each.
Even if they do, it’s unclear that those features on the pickup will carry into production. Hyundai, for one, abandoned the extendable cargo bed first shown with the concept version of its Santa Cruz pickup. And we can be all but certain that VFWild won’t have the pillarless design with a rear-opening back door. Other manufacturers have abandoned that idea as well, because of the challenges of meeting today’s crash standards.
“There will be changes,” Thuy said in an interview after the VinFast news conference when asked about the VFWild. But, while she acknowledged gaining a foothold in the truck sector will be “very hard,” she stressed, “We would like to have a pickup for the U.S. market. We would like to solicit feedback from people in the market before we make a decision.”
How potential buyers react could depend on overcoming the reputational damage resulting from the botched launch of the VF 8.
You can check out all that VinFast has to offer at its website.