It’s a car company you’ve never heard of from a country you’d never expect. Soccer superstar David Beckham is its global ambassador and a bunch of Australians are bringing it to reality.
It’s called Vinfast, it’s from Vietnam and it didn’t exist 18 months ago.
But less than 12 months from now it will start rolling cars from the assembly line of a new factory under construction in Haiphong.
And a bunch of Australians thrown out of work by the shuttering of our own car industry over the past few years are playing a key role building Vinfast’s engineering and manufacturing capability from nothing.
“They bring massive talent and experience to the business,” Vinfast’s vice president of planning and program management, Englishman Roy Flecknell, told The New Daily at the Paris motor show, where the company officially launched two new models.
“We have clearly benefitted from all those OEMs leaving Australia.
“It is sad that happened, but we have benefitted from it.”
There are around a dozen Australian among the senior staff of Vinfast, although none were at the Paris motor show when the company made its global debut and stunned the audience by introducing Beckham to the stage.
Such was the palaver, iconic global sports car manufacturer Ferrari had to hold up its presentation until Beckham and a long train of media had departed the area.
“It’s incredible, to create something in such a short space of time is really, really incredible,” Beckham said as he was shown the two vehicles, the LUX A2.0 sedan and LUX SA2.0 SUV.
“Vinfast is a miracle for Vietnam.”
And if you think from the photos these two cars look familiar that’s because they are rebodied versions of the previous generation BMW X5 Series and X5 SUV Vinfast is building under licence.
Vinfast also has plans to develop its own range of battery electric vehicles and an eBus, while it has also done a deal to build a General Motors compact car at an old GM plant in Hanoi from 2019.
If all this sounds a bit pie in the sky and flaky, Flecknell, one of several heavyweight automotive executives lured to Vinfast, insists it isn’t so.
“Unlike most start-ups which show a fantastic concept but don’t have the funding … there was no question where Vinfast’s money was coming from,” he said.
“It’s a start-up, which is exciting to be involved in and it’s challenging.”
The driving force behind Vinfast is one of Vietnam’s richest men, Pham Nhat Vuong, who owns the Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest privately held business, with assets valued at up to $35 billion.
Vuong, a Russian-educated Vietnamese, began his business career selling noodles in the Ukraine. He made his first fortune when he sold that business to Nestle for $150 million and then returned home 25 years ago to establish the Vingroup.
The multi-faceted corporation with interests in real estate, the health industry and education, is reported to have invested up to $3.5 billion in Vinfast.
The company is planning to start exporting within 12 months of Vietnamese sales starting next September.
South-East Asia is expected to be the initial target, with places like Australia further down the list.