If VinFast Sticks to Ambitious US Rollout, Future Models Need More Attention
A recent test drive of the VinFast VF 8 shows a vehicle that was rushed to market but could have used more time in development. Still, most of the problems we cited seem fixable.
VF 8 City Editions come in two trims (with 207 miles or 191 miles of range), but a second shipment of VinFast cars from Vietnam brings “Standard” models with 87.7-kWh batteries and up to 264 miles of range.
There was a hissing sound no one could quite explain, and adjusting the steering column was overly complicated. There were some inconsistent panel gaps inside and out, and the steering is a mixed bag, too.
Startup electric car brands fronted by flashy billionaires tend to have a rough go of it. Of course, Elon is the exception. But most hit plenty of speed bumps on their way to production—if they even make it that far. And Vietnamese startup VinFast is no different.
Established in 2017, VinFast is largely funded by the deep pockets of billionaire founder Pham Nhat Vuong, the wealthiest man in Vietnam. And he’s sunk billions of his own money into VinFast over the past six years.
Despite that cashflow, VinFast has struggled. The company burned though one CEO, cut its workforce here in the US, and—as we discovered on a recent test drive in Encinitas, California—rushed a vehicle to market that could have used more time in development. Indeed, the latest media reviews of the car have not been flattering. And we found plenty to complain about, too. However, most of what we noticed seems fixable. So it will be up to VinFast to decide how quickly they can pivot to address these issues.
The VF 8 crossovers made available for our testing were among the first 999 shipped to America—VF 8 City Editions. These come in two flavors: a more stripped-down Eco model (range of 207 miles) and a heavier Plus that includes more options, luxuries, tech, and a range of 191 miles. They both employ an 82-kWh Lithium Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum Oxide (NCA) battery supplied by Samsung.
The evening before our test drive, the second shipment of VinFast cars carrying another 1100 VF8 models for America landed by boat near San Francisco. These VF 8s are the newer and confusingly named “Standard” models that use a more modern and energy-dense 87.7-kWh CATL Lithium Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC) battery with a range of 264 miles in Eco trim or 243 miles in Plus trim.
And while the initial City models were lease-only, these new VF 8s can be leased or purchased with the Eco models starting at $46,000 and Plus models starting at $56,000.
Those already leasing (or planning to lease) the older VF 8 City Edition can transition their lease to the VF8 Standard. I confirmed with VinFast—the City model is indeed being phased out as these new models arrive. With that in mind, it’s surprising the company didn’t postpone the media drive event by a month or so and use these newer models.
Talk a long, slow walk around the VF 8 City, and there’s no denying it’s a handsomely styled crossover. Indeed, the design was penned in Italy by Pininfarina and looked great on the road or parked by the shore, especially our bright orange test car. The bodywork and panels look fine from a distance.
But move in closer and you might spy some inconsistent gaps. On my test unit, the area where trunk meets the body was off from side-to-side. And I noticed similar panel gap inconsistencies inside the cabin too, where the dash meets the door trim.
Slide into the front seat and the VF 8 is a reasonably good place to spend time. We found the seats comfortable, and there’s loads of legroom in the rear seat, although that bottom cushion is hard, flat, and wouldn’t be our choice for a longer haul.
The VF 8 has a wheelbase that’s about three inches longer than a Tesla Model Y and over 7 inches longer than an Audi Q4 e-tron. Still, with a rear trunk capacity of 48.4 cubic feet and front trunk capacity of 2.7 cubic feet, the VF 8 comes up a little short on less cargo space compared to these competitors.
The quality of the materials and switchgear inside this Plus model are on par with mainstream automakers like Chevy and Ford. And the vegan leather trim appears to be good quality. VinFast uses a large 15.6-inch central screen to control virtually every function in the car. The display was a little confusing to use as some functions are buried deep in the menus.
And at moments, the commands were delayed. Want to adjust the tilt and telescoping steering wheel? You must first select that function on the screen and then use buttons on the steering wheel. That’s quite a bit of back and forth to make what should be a quick adjustment. Good news? VinFast has an easy-to-navigate window for drive modes.
As soon as you sit inside the VF 8, it’s already “on,” so there is no start/stop button. My test VF 8 was making a soft hissing sound, as if a white noise machine was embedded underneath the dash. And the sound lasted the entire trip. I confirmed it was not the HVAC fan.
The VF 8 moves away from a standstill quickly—the company quotes 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds thanks to its 402 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque. And you can see the speed build on the car’s head-up display.
But unlike many EVs, that acceleration is not completely silent. I heard a whine from both the front and rear electric motors as well as wind rushing around the A-pillar once the VF 8 reached 75 mph or so. Worse still, I noticed some buzzing from the inside plastics on some of the rougher roads.
The VF 8 has three drive modes that can be adjusted from the touchscreen: Eco, Normal, and Sport. Normal seems to be the best of them all, and I didn’t notice a difference between it and Eco. And Sport is calibrated with a throttle tip-in that was a little too aggressive for our tastes. Speaking of sporty, it’s clear VinFast was aiming for a more responsive ride when they calibrated the suspension and steering but it’s a bit much.
The suspension is taut and controls the body roll well on a curvy road, but throw in a big bump and the chassis gets easily upset and starts bobbing. On rougher roads the VF 8 is a little busy. Part of the reason for all this could be this vehicle’s weight. It’s about 1000 pounds heavier than a Tesla Model Y or an Audi Q4 e-tron—that’s more than significant.
The steering is a mixed bag, too. It’s precise and quick but you don’t really get a sense of what the front tires are doing. At freeway speeds, the feel becomes heavy and when combined with the quick steering ratio the driver must make frequent slight steering corrections.
VinFast includes a long list of driver-assistance features on the VF 8 Plus, including lane-departure warning, lane-change assist, lane-centering assist, forward collision warning, front and rear emergency braking, traffic-sign recognition, and more. Trouble is, many of these systems are calibrated to be so intrusive during everyday driving that I simply had to turn them off. And that’s too bad because the point of them should be to help the driver, not nag them.
The VF 8’s brakes are comparable to other EVs I’ve driven but offer a response best described as non-linear in some circumstances. For example, when approaching a stoplight, the VF 8 often required more brake pressure the closer I got to the stopping point. In terms of regenerative braking, VinFast offers two modes, Low and High. High mode is aggressive but comes up just shy of representing true one-pedal driving.
The company brought representatives to the drive event, but none of them were vehicle engineers. So there was no opportunity to really discuss the tuning of the suspension, brakes, and steering or learn more about how the car was developed and how it’s being assembled at the plant in Hai Phong.
VinFast may have a few kinks to iron out with the VF 8, but at least the company is offering some reassurance to its potential buyers. The company will have 28 retail locations in California by the end of the year, and the car is covered under a 10-year, 125,000-mile warranty. The battery packs are covered by another 10-year unlimited warranty. VinFast has mobile support services as well as 24/7 roadside assistance available, too. And some fixes or updates to the car will be handled “over the air.”
The VF 8 can be charged through an expansive network of DC chargers that includes Electrify America, EVgo, and Charge Hub all through a one-pay system. VinFast says the VF 8’s battery can charge from 10% to 70% in 24 minutes using the fastest DC charging. For home purposes, the upgraded Level 2 charger is an 11-kW, 48-amp unit.
VinFast has ambitious plans for expansion. By 2025, it plans to churn out cars at a plant in North Carolina, but the company has yet to break ground. VinFast has announced a partnership with Black Spade Acquisition to potentially list on the New York Stock Exchange in the second half of this year. And that could accelerate the plant’s timeline.
The company is launching the seven-passenger VF 9 electric crossover in the fall and says it will follow that with smaller VF 6 and VF 7 models before the end of the year.
If all these cars do arrive on our shores within that timeframe, they’ll need to be better sorted than these early VF8s. VinFast certainly has the potential for success, but they’ll need to focus on improving the product details before buyers will be willing to choose them over established brands.
Do you think VinFast has a chance at success in the US EV market, or how about in Asia? Please comment below.