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Open Source: VinFast will need to turn its reputation around

I’m Brian Gordon, tech reporter for The News & Observer, and this is Open Source, a weekly newsletter on North Carolina business, labor and technology.

There are bad reviews, and then there are snark-filled bashings reserved for distinctly poor performances. For some car critics, the new electric SUV from VinFast inspired the latter.

North Carolina has a lot riding on the success of VinFast, the Vietnamese automaker that’s building its first North American factory in Chatham County. But initial impressions of its five-seat VF8 model, which is now available to some U.S. customers, weren’t great.

Headlines included terms like “Yikes,” “Return to Sender,” “Unacceptable,” and “Don’t buy.”

VinFast VF 9
VinFast VF 9

“You don’t see a new car get roasted this hard very often these days,” an auto journalist wrote in The Drive.

Another reviewer said driving the VF8 was the first time he’d ever gotten car sick.

This is obviously unwelcome news for VinFast, a nascent car manufacturer that’s forging its global reputation in real time.

It’s also bad news for North Carolina officials who are supporting the company’s planned $4 billion assembly plant in Chatham. The success of that plant could mean 7,500 new jobs in the rural county just west of the Triangle and enormous secondary economic benefits.

But people will have to buy the cars, and people aren’t likely to do so if the driving experience prompts some to grab barf bags.

Vietnamese automaker VinFast, a startup auto manufacturer, chose Chatham County for its first North American production facility. President Joe Biden has said that recent announcements of major corporations settling in North Carolina are evidence of his “economic strategy at work.”
Vietnamese automaker VinFast, a startup auto manufacturer, chose Chatham County for its first North American production facility. President Joe Biden has said that recent announcements of major corporations settling in North Carolina are evidence of his “economic strategy at work.”

For North Carolina’s sake, I hope the issues can be addressed. These are still early days. And because electric vehicles are more reliant on software than gas-powered cars, technicians can make many improvements over-the-air.

But for VinFast, it’s a wrong turn.

VinFast is going public in an interesting way

One more VinFast news item this week. The company, which had been preparing to go public through a traditional IPO, will instead hit the market via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.

Basically, a SPAC is a shell company that’s listed on the public markets and exists solely to help a private company go public. The private company merges with the SPAC and becomes public.

VinFast CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper sit inside a VF8 electric car Tuesday, March 29, 2022 outside the Raleigh Convention Center following an announcement that the company will build a manufacturing facility in Chatham County.
VinFast CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper sit inside a VF8 electric car Tuesday, March 29, 2022 outside the Raleigh Convention Center following an announcement that the company will build a manufacturing facility in Chatham County.

VinFast told The News & Observer a SPAC deal will afford the company a prestigious U.S. public listing without it needing to raise “substantial amounts of capital from investors.”

If you’re curious about the details of this SPAC deal, and why VinFast’s $23 billion valuation needs an asterisk, check out my story on what this could mean for the company (and by extension, North Carolina).

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Thanks for reading!

This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.

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