First Drive: The VinFast VF8 in Vietnam
Upstart VinFast is not your average electric vehicle company. The company was built as part of the expansive vision of parent company VinGroup, one of the largest companies in Vietnam. VinGroup aspires to be the change it wants to see in the world, for Vietnam and beyond. VinFast is the zero emission automotive arm of that change and is currently deploying its first electric vehicle, the E34, across the country, supported by a network of VinFast-branded EV chargers. This is merely the first in a long line of VinFast vehicles slated for production in the coming years as VinFast attempts to rapidly scale production domestically and around the world.
The E34 was unveiled in January 2021 with plans to rapidly deploy it in the domestic Vietnamese market. True to form, in less than a year, VinFast started shipments to customers later that year in November 2021. On the heels of the successful launch of the E34 and with the learnings from their first electric vehicle under their belts, VinFast started spooling up for the launch of their first global market electric vehicle, the VF8. The VF8 is aimed at the hottest vehicle segment across a number of key global markets, the crossover.
VinFast brought a veritable army of journalists, influencers, investors, and early customers to Vietnam to showcase the full expanse of the VinGroup ecosystem and most importantly, to be some of the first people in the world to test drive the VF8.
Disclaimer: VinFast paid for travel and accommodations for the author to attend this event.
Pulling up to the VF8, it looks much like any other vehicle. It strikes right at the heart of the crossover segment, with a low, sloping roofline that tapers back to a powered lift gate. Seeing the vehicle in person, it is aesthetically very pleasing. That comes as no surprise, as VinFast engaged the services of famed automotive design house Pininfarina to ensure its aesthetics, aerodynamics, and efficiency were on point and on trend. The front of the car carries VinFast’s signature V bumper out across the vehicle, with a wide light bar that extends out across the width of the vehicle.
Inside, the VF8 seats 5, with folding rear seats that allow it to serve double duty as a family vehicle during the week, while still being flexible enough to haul a load of furniture from Ikea on the weekend. It boasts a modern 15.6″ landscape orientation touchscreen display up front that’s reminiscent of Tesla’s interior with a modern user interface that fits right in with the black leather appointed seats. The vehicles we were given to play with were pre-production units and while they were fully functional, they aren’t necessarily what’s going to end up in the production version. From what we saw, it should slot right in with its peers in the electric vehicle segment in terms of what customers expect in a modern electric vehicle.
On top of the crisp graphics and modern color palette, VinFast is building out an end to end voice command system, powered by Cerence. The system will enable drivers and passengers to take control of the infotainment system and interact with the vehicle with simple voice commands. Commands start with a familiar “Hey VinFast,” and can be used to adjust the cabin lighting, interior temperature, seat heaters, and more. VinFast also inked a deal to integrate Amazon’s Alexa into the vehicle.
We played with the voice command functionality in the vehicle and were impressed at how responsive it was, even telling jokes if you’re nice. The technology is expected to eventually be able to interpret commands in natural language and respond appropriately. For example, in response to the driver saying, “I’m hot,” the vehicle would automagically turn down the temperature set point on the thermostat.
Powering the vehicle on, it was finally time to drive and take the VF8 out onto the road. The VF8 boasts a respectable 0-60 time as fast as 5.3 seconds, and an 260 miles (82 kWh standard battery) and 292 miles (87.7 kWh enhanced battery) of range per charge on the VF8 Eco or 248 miles (82 kWh standard battery) and 277 miles (87.7 kWh enhanced battery) on the VF8 Plus. Those specs place the VF8 squarely in the middle of its competitive pack and make it a viable option for the hordes of consumers around the world itching to get into an electric vehicle with sufficient range to replace their petrol vehicle.
We rolled out in the VF8 Eco and were able to spend ~30 minutes in the vehicle blasting around a pre-defined track. Rolling out of the staging area, the vehicle was extremely quiet. That’s a function of both the much quieter electric motors and the sound dampening in the vehicle. We timed our 0-62mph / 0-120kph launches to be closer to 8 seconds, so it’s definitely not going to knock your socks off but it is more than sufficient for running around town. The sportier VF8 Plus will deliver a 0-60 time of respectable 5.3 seconds for those looking for a bit more adrenaline from their vehicle.
Taking a few tight turns on a virtual slalom course, the VF8 had more body roll than most popular electric vehicles on the market. Having said that, it still swayed less than any gasoline-powered SUV, thanks to its low battery pack keeping the vehicle anchored to the road. The VF8 is a workhorse of a vehicle and, assuming the production vehicles look and perform anything similar to what we saw in the pre-production build, it is going to put a smile on the faces of buyers in Vietnam, America, and beyond.
VinFast has already made significant progress in building out its vision for sustainable, renewable transportation in Vietnam and this is just the beginning. From their massive factory in Hai Phong, VinFast is building a line of electric scooters for customers in Southeast Asia and beyond, the electric vehicles to charge them, and will be building only 100% electric vehicles by the end of this month. This transportation revolution is supported by VinGroup’s significant commercial real estate holding that has already enabled them to install VinFast retail locations across the country at VinCom shopping malls.
These malls serve multiple functions for VinFast, with the ability to sell, service, and charge VinFast vehicles and scooters all in one place. It’s an ecosystem and as strange as it looked on paper, seeing it in person one step at a time, it all just works. The future is bright for VinFast and the company appears to be well-positioned to take on the monumental task of attempting to replicate its success in Vietnam in the United States, starting with their new factory in North Carolina, bolstered by a host of new VinFast retail locations springing up in California and beyond.
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