Founded in 2017, Vietnam-based automaker VinFast pivoted to exclusively making electric vehicles just five years after launch. In 2022, it began exporting to the U.S. market, announcing it would set up a factory in North Carolina and pursue an IPO. Its ambitions have given it a reputation as a fast-moving force, but it’s also caused confusion: Where did VinFast come from, and why is the upstart already challenging giants like Tesla on their home soil?

VinFast not only has the backing of its powerful parent company, Vingroup, but it also fits the conglomerate’s pattern of trying new ventures, from smartphones to e-commerce. EVs, however, are a challenge on another scale.

In an exclusive interview, Rest of World spoke with VinFast Global CEO Lê Thị Thu Thủy, who has led the company since 2021. She explained the company’s rationale in putting rapidly developed cars on U.S. roads, the feedback loop it takes from customers, and its unorthodox route of “taking a detour” to catch up to rivals. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Vingroup doesn’t have a manufacturing background; it mostly has experience in services and real estate. How did you transition to manufacturing cars?

Actually, the root of Vingroup is manufacturing. When they were making noodles in Ukraine, that was mass production. Of course, the product was different. But there are commonalities in terms of setting up a factory, the production line, and efficiencies.

Making cars is different — it’s much more complex. Right from the start, VinFast hired top talent with at least 20–30 years of experience in the automotive industry, who have witnessed and gone through many car models, ICE [internal combustion] vehicles, and even EVs. Currently, VinFast has about 36 different nationalities and hundreds of foreigners working in different positions, especially in manufacturing.  

Why did you stop making gas-powered cars and go fully electric last year?

Actually, that was the goal from the beginning: to make electric cars and go global. But to manufacture EVs, the fastest way to learn is to take a detour by learning from the best in the automotive industry, like BMW, like General Motors. We learned how to set things up and develop cars, how to set up a factory, and what quality standards are needed. 

After we managed to manufacture gas-powered cars and started to sell on the Vietnamese market, in less than two years, three VinFast models became top-selling cars in their respective market segments.

But we’ve remained loyal to our original objective. We can’t say, “I make EVs, but I still sell gas-powered cars” — that is, that I’m for the environment but still care about profit, and so I sell gas-powered cars.

Why are you already targeting U.S. and European markets, despite being such a young startup?

Right from the start, VinFast decided to become a global company. U.S. and European markets are very demanding — with very hard-to-please customers. This is the basis for VinFast to develop products that are truly good. If we can conquer U.S. and European customers, then other markets won’t be a big issue. 

How does VinFast intend to conquer U.S. customers?

VinFast doesn’t have a brand presence here yet. Therefore, we target customers by going directly to them. We have to let consumers test the car and convince them one by one. Gradually, we’ll gather feedback from consumers to make a better product. Over time, the reputation and brand will spread. 

This is the path that VinFast has chosen. Perhaps it will be a little more difficult. But this way, we have direct contact with the consumers, so we can receive their feedback.

The VF 8 City Edition, the 999 cars [that arrived in the U.S. in December] have been identified as cars for marketing. The driving range of this car is more limited than the standard edition cars that will later be delivered to customers, because their battery is different. But VinFast still wants to deliver these cars to consumers directly, so we can receive feedback from them. Customers can try them out and later exchange them for another car. 

Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images

VF 8 drivers in Vietnam say they like the mechanics of the car. But as with other EV makers, there have been battery and software issues.

Not everything comes out during the testing of software. Often it has to be put in the hands of consumers, under specific circumstances, then some errors will suddenly emerge. The important thing is the car is very safe, and the driving experience is precise. The car has gone through all the safety tests — that’s how it could be imported into the U.S. market.

Those in the industry would understand that software needs to be tested, and if there are errors, they need to be fixed and updated. This is happening every day. And every few weeks, there’s a new version of the software for customers.

In the near future, software errors will be gradually resolved, and customers will no longer be exposed to these errors. It will take some time, a few months, but not too long. With our 10-year warranty policy and services — not just at the service center but also online services, like software updates — I think the customers can be assured. There are a few cases recorded with software errors [in Vietnam], and VinFast has proactively sorted out solutions for its customers. Most of them are satisfied with the products after their issues have been solved. 

In fact, recently we’ve been focusing more on software for the U.S. market. Many of the errors have been addressed in the U.S. version. And these adjustments will be updated in Vietnam soon. 

VinFast is a young automotive startup, but it has already undergone big changes. Is it true to say the VinFast environment is constantly changing?

This is Vingroup’s culture. We change whatever is not suitable instead of just sitting there, waiting for it to die. The ability to change and adapt for better growth is very important. 

Is it true that you aim to sell 750,000 EVs annually by 2026? Isn’t that ambitious? 

I think we need to try our best to beat that number. A lot of people are switching from gas-powered cars to EVs. The market is huge. Of course, this target is very difficult. Everyone knows this. But if you meet it, it’s worth it. I hope we’ll achieve more than that.