Vietnamese electric-vehicle (EV) start-up VinFast Trading and Production LLC, a subsidiary of Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup JSC, last week unveiled plans to open a US plant.

This comes after it set up a 50-member research and development office in the US city of San Francisco in anticipation of automobile sales across the state of California next year, VinFast CEO Thai Thi Thanh Hai told Bloomberg News.

“VinFast’s vision is to become a global smart electric car company and the US market is one of the first international markets that we will focus on . . . We initially will develop high-end models for the US,” she was quoted as saying.

Hai touted VinFast’s automobiles as top-of-the-line and equipped with high safety standards and advanced technology, voicing optimism that the Vietnamese company could win over international customers and erode their initial hesitation in buying products from a relatively unknown firm.

She also told Bloomberg that VinFast plans to open 35 showrooms and service centres in California this year.

With a licence to test autonomous vehicles on public roads recently awarded by state regulators, she added that the company expects to deliver its first EVs to US customers next year.

While she declined to reveal the extent of VinFast’s investment in the US market, Hai said the idea is to be profitable after five years of operation, even with looming Covid-19 concerns.

In September, California state governor Gavin Newsom issued an order “requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035 and additional measures to eliminate harmful emissions from the transportation sector”.

The order gives further impetus for VinFast to sell EVs in the market, Hai said as reported by Bloomberg.

VinFast founder and Vingroup chairman Pham Nhat Vuong told Bloomberg late in 2019 that he would invest $2 billion of his own personal resources into VinFast to ship cars to the US.

Meanwhile, VinFast inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Taiwanese battery-cell manufacturer ProLogium Technology Co Ltd (PLG) to speed up the commercialisation of solid-state battery EVs in Vietnam, according to PLG.

Under the MoU, the two parties will establish a joint venture (JV) to manufacture automotive solid-state battery (SSB) packs for VinFast’s EVs, the Taiwanese firm said in a March 3 press release.

“The JV will have priority to purchase PLG’s SSB product and will be licensed to use PLG’s patented SSB pack assembly technology, MAB [Multi-Axis Bipolar+], to produce CIM/CIP SSB pack [cell is module/cell is pack] locally in Vietnam.

“PLG will produce SSB inlays [semi-finished battery cell composed of cathode, solid state electrolyte and anode layer] for the JV at one of its Asian manufacturing centres – expected to reach 1-2GWh capacity in 2022, which will support mass production schedule of VinFast EVs in 2023-2024.

“Debuted four years ago, VinFast is now ranked number five in Vietnam’s automobile market share and has created a wide-spectrum product portfolio. In the beginning of 2021, VinFast announced three smart electric SUV models and demonstrated its resolve to become a global leading EV corporation,” PLG said.

VinFast began selling cars with engines licensed from German automaker Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) in 2019, according to VnExpress. In 2020, it sold 31,500 units – all in Vietnam.

This represents 7.73 per cent of the 407,487 units sold domestically last year by the country’s predominant automakers – VinFast, Malaysian-owned TC Motor Vietnam Co Ltd and members of the Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, according to Vietnam News Agency.

With a 2021 sales forecast of more than 45,000 units, the company aims to begin delivery of EVs assembled at its plant in the northern port city of Haiphong to domestic customers by December, Bloomberg said.

According to VnExpress, VinFast has research and development centres in Australia, Germany and the US.