At VinFast, everything is inspired by Tesla: from the large central screen on the VF8 car to the “Gigafactory” installed by Hanoi. We had the opportunity to visit it to see the assembly lines and battery design in action.
After our first test drive of the VinFast VF8 SUV, we took advantage of our visit to Vietnam to visit the VinFast factory near Hanoi. It was in the calm of a hot and humid day, near the port of Haiphong, one of the most bombed sites in all of North Vietnam, that our day began. The war has now been over for almost half a century and this corner of the waterfront has been heavily industrialized.
VinFast was born five years ago, the latest in a conglomerate founded by Pham Nhat Vuong. We were talking about it in a file, after graduating from school in Moscow, he borrowed $25,000 to start an instant noodle business in Ukraine. In 2010, he sold it to Nestlé for 150 million dollars, then is in Vietnam to launch Vingroup. It now operates an assortment of businesses, including shopping malls, hotels, resorts and amusement parks, hospitals, a mobile operator and even a university.
Now Vietnam’s richest man is intent on becoming a global auto lord. Named VinFast, his new venture is determined to live up to its name. Created in 2017, the first vehicle, a modified BMW X5, was in production two years later at a sprawling complex erected in Haiphong. We also had the opportunity to drive the first thermal cars from VinFast, an SUV and a sedan whose finishes have nothing to envy to those of German cars.
If all goes as planned, the Vietnamese car manufacturer will market two all-electric vehicles in France by the end of 2022, the VF8, which we have carried out a first test, and the huge VF9 SUV. Then there will be VF6 and VF7. An entire program.
Although there are many factories in Vietnam, they are largely focused around the production of clothing. The launch of VinFast marks a sea change that could drastically alter the economy of the Asian nation. At least, that’s Vingroup’s goal.
At first, it was difficult to take the project seriously. There was the license agreement with BMW. Then the construction of a huge factory near the port of Haiphong and the recruitment of big names in the automobile industry in Europe and America. As we mentioned in this article, to go quickly, VinFast collaborates with the Italians Pininfarina and Torino, the Austrian Magna Steyr, the Swiss ABB, the Germans Bosch, Siemens, and moreover BMW.
With a population of over 97 million, VinFast has a potentially lucrative domestic market. But VinFast made it clear early on that their ambitions don’t stop at the Vietnamese border. They have therefore announced that they will switch to 100% electric, even though Vietnam is very far from starting this energy transition. On the Vietnamese roads, we came across multiple VinFast vehicles. However, all were thermal, equipped with a modified BMW engine.
Note that VinFast is not new to electrified vehicles, the Vietnamese company already markets electric scooters and buses in Vietnam. We had the opportunity to test them.
The Vietnamese “Gigafactory”
The factory in Haiphong is huge, just the assembly workshop has a total area of 200,000 square meters. At present, production capacity averages 38 vehicles per hour, or 250,000 electric vehicles per year. VinFast nevertheless has the possibility of expanding its factory to reach 950,000 vehicles produced per year. This is the equivalent of what Tesla’s Gigafactory in Shanghai, China could theoretically produce. We also put “Gigafactory” in quotation marks, because unlike Tesla (and soon Volkswagen), to build its batteries, VinFast assembles cells already delivered by Samsung. VinFast does not – yet – produce its own cells.
To be fully assembled, a VinFast car will go through a full four kilometer long assembly line. After painting, the car body is automatically transferred to the general assembly workshop by an overhead system.
In total, about 3,000 major components and subassemblies need to be assembled to build a complete car. With 15 production lines, including interior/exterior and door assembly, engine and chassis assembly, final assembly, and finishing and general inspection lines.
Robots supplied by Dalmec (Italy) allow operators to safely handle large parts and components without direct contact, helping to increase productivity and safety.
VinFast’s body shop is equipped with 1,200 ABB (Switzerland) robots installed by automotive industry experts, including EBZ from Germany and Hirotec from Japan. This robotic system allows the body shop to produce 100% of the car’s welds. It is impressive to see the robots move harmoniously and precisely.
Where the batteries are designed
VinFast also designs its own batteries, with a battery assembly plant and eventually plans to produce its own battery cells in Haiphong. Once in this workshop dedicated to batteries, we find the small cells/batteries designed by Samsung.
The cell sorting process is 100% automated. Cells are checked and classified into four voltage levels to optimize battery life and life. After being tested, they are grouped into battery packs. As with Tesla, they are therefore small individual battery cells connected in parallel and in series.
Thus, they assemble into a battery pack, unlike the batteries in the form of a pocket, such as the batteries of the BMW i3 or the batteries used in the Chevrolet Bolt. This choice is explained by the flexibility and profitability offered by the assembly of these small battery cells. In this way, by connecting a greater number of battery cells in parallel, VinFast increases the capacity of the battery, thus offering several versions of the vehicle with extended autonomy.
Later, in 2022, near Vung Ang (Ha Tinh) still in Vietnam, Vingroup explained that it wanted to operate an LFP battery factory (for Lithium-Iron-Phosphate) which will extend over 8 hectares and will cost more of 175 million euros. What reduce costs (thanks to LFP technology), but at the expense of energy density compared to NMC / NCA cells.
European and American expertise
All machines and equipment used in the factory are brand new and 100% imported from European and American countries. Furthermore, the production lines have a level of automation of up to 80%, as you can see in the photos.
At the final assembly station, the vehicle control program is installed. The car then passes through a fluid filling station where it is filled with its necessary operating fluids: coolant, air conditioning gas, power steering fluid, brake fluid and windshield washer fluid. .
After the filling station, the car is subjected to a few test benches. At this stage, important parameters related to car performance are tested, such as tire balance, lateral acceleration, noise, vibration, headlight brightness, sealing and so on. Finally, a vehicle validation test is carried out on a test track.
It’s time to see if VinFast’s ambitious launch schedule is up to the challenge. The Vietnamese group has also announced that it is building a similar factory in the United States, but also in Germany. For the Vietnamese, the resemblances with Tesla no longer have any limits.
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