2023 VinFast VF 8 First Drive Review: Testing Vietnam’s First EV for America
We get to know the global juggernaut behind America’s next carmaker and take its first product, an all-electric SUV, for a spin. In the wake of Tesla’s industry-shaking success and the future promise of electric, autonomous mobility, would-be electric car companies are sprouting up everywhere. The floodgates have opened, with the last decade seeing more startups get off the ground than at any time since the dawn of the automobile. Most are already finding out the hard way that car building is a terrible way to make money. Developing and selling cars is a hugely cash-intensive business, and automobiles are the world’s single most complex consumer goods, subject to the most numerous and varied global regulations and operating environments. It all adds up to a world where an overwhelming majority of intenders will fail, most without ever having delivered a single vehicle.
Despite such dire conditions, if I had to place my chips on a single new automaker to escape the mire, it’s Vietnam’s VinFast. In fact, there’s ample reason to believe the company won’t just survive, it will likely shortly emerge as a global force, including right here in America. I say this after having flown to Asia to learn about the company and drive its first US-bound model, the 2023 VF 8 electric SUV. My trip quickly turned out to be as much of a test drive of VinFast itself as it is of its forthcoming battery-powered compact crossover.
While my very brief drive of VinFast’s electric future took place in a preproduction prototype, you won’t have to wait long to have your chance to buy a VF 8 — plans call for initial examples to land in US driveways by year’s end. In fact, the young automaker even expects to deliver the first units of its larger sibling, the handsome three-row VF 9 EV, before 2023. These are hugely ambitious goals, but the company already has an established track record for accomplishing the nearly impossible, thanks in part to an executive team made up of industry veterans. VinFast started in 2017, and just 21 months later, it had three different passenger cars in production in a massive, fully modern factory complex in Haiphong, about two hours east of Hanoi. Those first models were admittedly based heavily on tech purchased from other automakers like BMW, but even so, the accomplishment can’t be overstated.
Vingroup corporate power
While CNET isn’t normally in the habit of test-driving prototypes from startups, there’s ample reason to believe VinFast will buck the trend and find success. For one thing, this company has the financials to see things through. It’s part of Vietnam’s Vingroup, a mega-corporation that owns and operates dozens of businesses, including luxury resorts, amusement parks, hospitals, and even massive housing developments that are more like small cities, replete with skyscrapers and malls. More to the point, Vingroup also appears to have a slew of helpful related technologies in its portfolio, including divisions focused on AI, cybersecurity, and cloud computing. The organization even built a new university from scratch to cultivate homegrown talent. All of this illustrates that not only does this company have the resources to become a global automotive player, but it also develops businesses at a breakneck clip. At 28 years young, Vingroup is barely out of corporate adolescence.
For starters, the 2023 VinFast VF 8 is the right vehicle at the right time. North America’s compact electric crossover SUV segment is rapidly blooming, and this five-seat model is sized and designed to establish a beachhead in the heart of this emerging market. That strategy may sound basic and obvious, but it’s worth noting that it took literal decades for Japanese automakers like Honda and Toyota to introduce the right types of vehicles for the vast majority of Americans to take them seriously (let alone deliver vehicles with styling acceptable to the masses). Ditto for Korea’s Hyundai and Kia, both of which admittedly managed the trick significantly more quickly.
The VF 8’s exterior is contemporary, with standard LED illumination and a V-shaped grille with integrated daytime running lamps that echo the brand’s logo. The nose is the single most expressive and potentially controversial aspect of the exterior, but even if the face isn’t your favorite, the design isn’t so out there as to be a turn-off for most buyers. In profile, the VF 8 looks rather nondescript — its most interesting details are the tapered indentation along the door bottoms and a raked rear window.