The realities on the ground foreshadow an uphill battle. The company has only one factory, near Hanoi in northern Vietnam, and it sold only 30,000 vehicles in 2020 — all of them in its home market. Toyota sells that many RAV4 crossovers in the U.S. in a single month.
VinFast has an unproven track record in production, sales and customer service overseas and its name is virtually unknown in the U.S. At first blush, it looks like so many other hopeful EV entrants from China and beyond that aim high but have so far failed to crack Fortress America.
Chinese EV entrants Bordrin and Byton illustrate the difficulties ahead. Those Chinese startups had flashy concept cars, big ambitions and, in Byton's case at least, an infusion of foreign talent that included a former BMW Group vice president who led development of the BMW i8.
Bordrin ran out of money and folded, and Byton was thrown into limbo by the pandemic.
VinFast has not announced its pricing plans. But it expects to undercut the established competition by a wide margin while still offering the same bells and whistles with acceptable reliability.
Even if a newcomer manages to nail distribution, marketing and service, cultivating a good brand image remains a word-of-mouth game, said Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com.
"It's a very tough journey to get U.S. consumers to accept a brand they are not familiar with," Brauer said. "You can't just throw money into changing people's minds. It takes time."
In a best-case scenario, he added, it may take a decade to really take root in the U.S.
But VinFast's secret weapon may just be its speed.
It built its factory in Hai Phong in only 12 months, and launched its first three models within 18 months of completing the plant. In the market segments in which it competes in Vietnam, it achieved No. 1 market share just 18 months after launching its first gasoline nameplate in 2019, the Fadil.
Now, VinFast is joining the industry's shift from internal combustion to electric by launching six EVs, starting with the VF e34 compact crossover. That product racked up 25,000 preorders in the first three months it was offered. Deliveries begin in December.
Next year, VinFast kicks off a Go Global expansion phase with the two new larger crossovers that will be on display at the Los Angeles show — the VF e35 and VF e36.
Three more smaller EVs are planned from 2023 and beyond.
VinFast has all the markings of a modern high-tech automotive disruptor. It is promising the latest automated driving abilities and talking about artificial intelligence, augmented reality and solid-state batteries. And Vingroup has two female vice chairwomen overseeing the automaker.
When VinFast begins taking U.S. orders for the VF e35 and VF e36 in the first half of 2022, the company intends to bypass franchised dealers and retail through a purely digital format.
"We will not establish dealer systems, but we will have showrooms and self-deploy the distribution and sales activities to ensure high-standard services for customers," Lohscheller said.
"This represents our primary positioning in the near future. However, further in the future, we will welcome opportunities to cooperate with leading distribution agents in the global markets."