There is a new name that Australian motoring enthusiasts need to take note of – VinFast.
Despite sounding like a searchable database for vehicle registrations, VinFast is a young, relatively unknown, but extremely well-funded car company that is on a hiring spree, snapping up Australia’s best engineers left high and dry after the downfall of Holden and the end of local manufacturing.
The Vietnamese-owned company has started up an Australian engineering hub, known as VinFast Engineering Australia, and it is currently being staffed by a number of ex-Holden, Ford, and Toyota employees.
Currently located in a temporary office in Melbourne’s CBD, VinFast Engineering Australia will soon be operating out of a purpose-built Port Melbourne facility. It’s reported that the company could also be interested in purchasing Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground, which is now for sale in the wake of the brand’s closure.
VinFast is owned by Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private business, with assets totalling $35 billion. Of that figure, a reported $3.5 billion has been invested into VinFast. Vingroup was founded by Vietnam’s richest man and former instant noodle magnate Pham Nhat Vuong.
The man put in charge of running VinFast is ex-General Motors heavyweight Jim DeLuca, and he has since stacked senior positions at the two-year-old company with people poached from his former employer.
VinFast’s director of design, Dave Lyon, vice-president of planning and program management, Roy Flecknell, and engineering vice-president Kevin Fisher all formerly collected pay checks from GM.
The most senior Australian in VinFast’s heavy-hitting executive team is Shaun Calvert, another ex-GM hire, which is now the company’s vice-president of manufacturing.
With GM making the shock decision to axe Holden, 800 employees have been left in the lurch, and VinFast is making the most of the opportunity.
DeLuca told carsales.com the brand wants to employ “a few hundred” engineers at its new Australian facilities.
The VinFast Engineering Australia team will be responsible for developing future products for the company, hence the potential interest in purchasing the Lang Lang proving ground.
“Australia is a developed automobile market which has available suppliers, skills that VinFast wants to tap into,” DeLuca told carsales.com.au.
Flecknell says Australian expertise has played an integral part in developing VinFast’s manufacturing and engineering capacity.
“They bring massive talent and experience to the business,” he told carsales.com.au last year. “We have clearly benefited from all those OEMs leaving Australia.”
Recent senior hires for VinFast Engineering Australia include Kevin Yardley, a 25-year Holden and GM veteran, and Joe Sawyer, who has 23 years of experience with Holden.
VinFast has built a brand-new manufacturing facility in Hanoi where its cars will be produced. The land it is built on was once water, but it has been reclaimed; now housing VinFast’s 335 hectare campus which includes its international head office.
Additionally, the Vietnamese company has brokered a deal with General Motors for exclusive distribution rights for Chevrolet products in Vietnam, as well as taking over ownership of the GM manufacturing facility, dealer network, and employee base.
Despite its deeply Vietnamese roots, VinFast’s ambitions are international, with founder Vuong indicating that the company would not remain profitable if it sold to its native market exclusively. He wants to sell cars in the US by 2021.
There is no word on an Australian launch for VinFast, but the company has expressly stated it intends to become a “global automobile company and brand”, and its new Australian headquarters indicates this is a case of when, not if.
Launched at the Paris motor show in 2018, VinFast’s first two models use BMW architectures and drivetrains, supplied by the German manufacturer under license.
The LUX A2.0 sedan is a 5 Series beneath the bodywork, and LUX SA2.0 SUV is an X5. Both are powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, paired with an eight-speed ZF transmission. Both have bodies designed by Pininfarina.
If the four-cylinder turbo engines don’t get your heart racing, the LUX SA SUV is getting a limited-edition version, powered by a 339kW/624Nm naturally-aspirated V8.
The 6.2-litre V8 under the bonnet is rumoured to be an LT1 donated by GM, the same unit fitted to the current Chevrolet Camaro SS, and outgoing C7 Corvette.
The third car in VinFast’s stable is the Fadil, which is based on the Vauxhall Karl and sold in Vietnam.