Troubled Vietnamese automotive startup VinFast has had a rough go of things lately. From a botched rollout to journalists in Vietnam to an almost comically mishandled launch in the United States, it seems like the company has entered into the EV market before it’s ready. That was confirmed again today when the U.S. government announced a recall of all of VinFast’s cars sold in the country. Which isn’t many.
Making cars is hard, and today I want to focus on how much trouble everyone’s having. This will start with Vietnamese cars in America, of course, but also include Chinese cars in their home market and American cars in Asia. Let the fun begin.
Not A Good Look, VinFast
When Emme Hall went on the VinFast VF8 City Edition first drive event for us, she immediately had problems.
The first thing I do when I sit in the new VinFast VF8 City Edition is attempt to lower my seat. I apply a bit of downward pressure on the lever and the plastic covering comes off in my hand. “Ah, crap,” I think as I snap it back on. “I broke the car.”
Then the car begins to chime. Loudly. It seems that all the automated driving assistance features are kaput and need servicing. Forward collision warning? Service Required. Blind-spot monitoring? Service Required. Rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, lane keeping assist? Service All, Y’all.
This was supposed to be Vietnam’s lower price Tesla alternative to something like a Model Y, but after about a million Tesla price drops the car is almost certainly more expensive. It’s hard to say for sure, because VinFast is only leasing its vehicles. Why? The Inflation Reduction Act will get you $7,500 off a Tesla via a tax credit, but not a VinFast. However, there’s a loophole in the law that allows companies to get a small rebate for leasing cars.
Also, VinFast is smart to lease its cars because it means that, in a couple of years, it can get its cars back. I’m pretty sure it’s going to want all its cars back. Why? Because they’re barely out and NHTSA is forcing a recall over multifunction head units (i.e. the floating, Tesla Model 3-like center stack) that keep blanking out.
Here’s the NHTSA safety recall report:
On certain 2023 MY VF 8 Variant MPVs, the MHU screen goes blank while driving or
stationary. When this condition manifests, the driver can see neither the display’s
telltale warning lights nor the control icons. After an ignition cycle, the MHU display
screen returns to normal operation. VinFast is not aware of any field reports of
incidents in the United States on vehicles in customer hands or in Company fleet
service. The number of potentially affected vehicles is 999, all of which were shipped
to the United States. Of these 999, 111 are in customer hands, and 153 are in fleet
service. 735 vehicles remain under VinFast’s custody and control. In total, of the
264 vehicles either in customer hands or in fleet service, VinFast is aware of 18
reported occurrences on 14 vehicles. Of the 18 occurrences, 8 occurred while the
vehicle was in park, 5 occurred while the vehicle was not in park, and for 5 of the
occurrences, the position of the shift selector lever was not reported.
There’s a lot in here. First, they’ve apparently only “leased” 111 of the 999 cars they’ve imported into the country. There are 153 in “fleet service,” which is interesting. Also, this has happened 18 times! That’s not great.
The good news is that VinFast can fix these cars with an over-the-air update.
A screen blanking out isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a car, but it’s another sign that these cars are not fully baked and you should not lease or buy one yet.
Great Wall And BYD Are In A Spat, Y’all
Autocratic governments don’t love it when it seems like there’s a loss of control. Control is sort of the point. While domestic automakers in the United States carp at each other all the time, the same isn’t as true in China.
Welp, the Chinese are learning to be just like us. Here’s a Reuters report on the rare spat between Chinese automakers Great Wall and BYD over emissions standards:
Great Wall Motor accused BYD of using non-pressurised fuel tanks in its Qin Plus and Song Plus plug-in hybrids, which let the liquid inside evaporate more rapidly than it would in pressurised tanks.
The Song is BYD’s best-selling SUV. The Qin is the company’s best-selling sedan.
Great Wall did not provide evidence for its claim and did not explain why any issue had not been detected by regulators before.
Fuel tank pressure is an issue for plug-in hybrids because they are designed to run on electric power alone at times, meaning gasoline remains in the tank longer than it would for a normal internal combustion-engine vehicle.
Pressurised tanks, which are widely used in hybrids and plug-in hybrids, are designed to limit the evaporation of gasoline and meet regulatory standards for the gasoline fumes vehicles emit.
BYD, for its part, denies the claims.
Mary Barra Goes To China
If you’re an automaker that hasn’t been extremely reliant on China for your bottom line, it’s probably easier to walk away than it is to engage. If you’re an automaker, like GM, who has made a ton of money in China, that’s probably harder.
Ergo, Mary Barra just went to China for her first post-pandemic visit. Here’s the Bloomberg take:
The “local partners” thing there is pretty key, as China’s consumers seem to be embracing their domestic market and seeing Chinese brands as more attractive.
Stellantis Is Investing In A Battery Startup That Wants To Double The Density Of EV Batteries
Ok, so this is cool. Stellantis hasn’t exactly been on the cutting edge of battery tech, but they’ve just made an investment in a lithium-sulfur startup called Lyten Inc. that hoped to double the effectiveness of batteries and reduce the need for rare earth materials. Is it too good to be true? Maybe.
Here’s The Detroit News with a description of the technology:
Stellantis’ investment will help speed Lyten’s technology to market. Its LytCell lithium-ion sulfur batteries don’t use the nickel, manganese and cobalt found in many lithium-ion batteries in EVs nowadays; those materials represent half the battery material cost because of their limited availability. Lyten will help Stellantis’ “holistic, but focused” approach to its portfolio.
Instead of those pricier minerals, the LytCell uses the company’s 3D Graphene, a product made from graphite with patented reactor technology that helps to tune materials like sulfur, which offers greater energy density. This can help to keep sulfur atoms in place and increase its conductivity for better battery performance.
If we have any battery engineer readers who want to dive deeper into this below please let me know. It seems cool.
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The answer to the question you never asked…
No, I’m not going anywhere this weekend. I plan on replacing the rear suspension in my wife’s Wagon.
Gosh, Paul Frank. There’s a name I haven’t heard in years.
All 111? They should just have them all do a group meet up and get to know each other. I guess it wont be the last time. Kind of like the old Saturn members club.
The only roadmap for new car brand success, at least in our market is “value leader earns trust over years of incremental improvements” ala Japanese/Korean imports.
This was always destined to be a failure. People who have the money to buy/lease a Vinfast have zero incentive to give a new brand from Vietnam a shot. There’s nothing unique really being offered here, to take a chance on a car with limited dealer support, no brand equity, etc. Foreign brands with actual heritage struggle here sometimes, why on earth would someone take a chance on Vinfast?
You know who’s desperate enough to try a weird unknown brand? Poor people. Because people without money are more likely to take a gamble on cheap transportation, mostly because they often are forced to. My parents took a few chances on Hyundai in the 80’s/90’s and while to a lot of people those were shit cars (they were), they were just good enough to provide a family a means to schlep themselves around Long Island. Since the early days of that Excel (lol) and a Sonata, they bought a few more and always consider Hyundai as an option. That’s how you build a brand.
That may be true, but sometimes you just don’t get over the initial impression. Especially broke people who don’t have the luxury of rolling the dice on transportation (source: broke me). An old-ass, ugly-ass, beat-ass, high-mileage-ass Geo Prizm was always a better bet than a newer
Oh sure, this strategy is by no means foolproof. You have to show up with something that doesn’t actively abuse those who take a risk on you, and you have to be willing to take a beating for years and years, which is something modern shareholders don’t appear to be patient to deal with anymore. But at least it’s been proven to work when a variety of things come together. Showing up to market with a single EV crossover for the upper-middle class that, btw, sort of just looks like an Escape with a strange face, doesn’t seem like an actual strategy.
So Vinfast is number one !!! in recall percentage that is
Somebody tell me again why we need damn stupid huge screens again please?
This is some stupid shit.
The answer will always be that it’s more cost-effective, but even that is something I start to doubt, because c’mon. As common as the tech may be nowadays, how can it be cheaper to make a massive touchscreen than to churn our bits of plastic from a mold and attach them to basic electric switches? How can motorized vents be cheaper than traditional ones?
I think the auto industry just has a lot of money tied in electronic component companies and they have to monetize their investments. Also, these things are more expensive to repair. In a few years some of these cars could be technically totalled because the screen died, and the cost of old but functional parts may well exceed the depreciated, outdated EV that depends on that screen for basic functions.
I know car companies need to support car models for a time but do they have go support electronics?
The software industry is crap at this. There are a LOT of applications that people and businesses rely on today but have been out of support for years. They’re vulnerable to hacks, some of them can’t even be transferred to other computers because the license check servers are gone, some do license checks using dongles attached to serial ports that haven’t been made in 20 years, etc.
This is a case where we’re going to need regulators to make car makers maintain their automotive software, and the hardware that goes with it (e.g. cars with cellular service will need to be upgraded when the telcos turn off specific bands or tech, e.g. when 3G went away). Otherwise you’ll have a perfectly functional car that can’t receive OTA updates, even if it needs them for safety or stability.
I mean, when they bury vital functions in touchscreen interfaces, those electronics are become a key component to the model they’re expected to support for some time, so I don’t really see them as separate things to provide support to.
Because people are still in awe of them when they see them in ads/showroom/dealers. The average consumer is generally not that smart, and big screen = better. I mean, people get wowed by screens in a friggin’ refrigerator.
Unfortunately car people are a small minority of the overall buying public.
Smaller graphene packs are regularly found in remote control hobby stuff. IIRC they have a reputation of being able to discharge faster but have a shorter lifespan. Most of my packs are not graphene but good ol’ NMC. Some packs I purchased for an electric ducted fan model turned out to be graphene. We’ll see how they last.
I currently have two graphene batteries out of the five that I purchased. They are great when they’re new, but I definitely noticed a drop off in performance after a while. Then, two of them stopped charging, and a third puffed up and had to be thrown out. The other two are still working fine, but three failures out of five batteries isn’t great.
Tell it to Torch! At least you didnt need a chainsaw to remove them!
VinFast..happend to the best of them. I seem to recall a load of the first Honda cars to come over was dumped at sea after being refused entry for bad brakes. Or am I making that up in my head?
I’m thinking more along the lines of “good riddance”. The market is already saturated with over-priced, ungainly, inefficient, aero-looking(but not actually aero), complex, tech-laden crossover and SUV blobs while alternatives to these things are scarce and dwindling.
VinFast would have left a better impression on me if they were actually trying to do something innovative and/or interesting for a change. Especially regarding purchase price. Something in the $15k range with 200+ miles range is what is really needed.
That’s definitely some sort of urban legend, Honda didn’t dump N600s in the Pacific. GM allegedly disposed of most of the Copper Cooled Chevies that way in Lake Michigan, and the US military dumped loads of Jeeps in the ocean after WWII to save on the cost of shipping them home and avoid flooding the car market with too many cheap used vehicles
I think that was a b movie in the 70s. But cant find it now.
“Instead of those pricier minerals, the LytCell uses the company’s 3D Graphene”
Ah yes, cheap, plentiful graphene is much easier to source. If they can make graphene cheaply then why bother with the batteries, just sell the that and make bazillions
I saw a Munro Live video about the lithium sulfur battery technology a while back and it does seem very promising: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLGUEehKIiU
Sure this type of battery was invented and demonstrated years ago, but making new chemistry and technology practical and scalable can take a while. I’m hoping companies like Lyten and Zeta Energy can make it happen, though.
I actually saw a Vinfast on the highway outside of Detroit the other weekend. It’s a shame that they aren’t very good because I thought it was a pretty good looking car. The lighted V thing they have going on with the grille is kind of cool when it’s all lit up.
I wonder if we saw the same one: ruby red with MI manufacturer plates?
I’m kind of disappointed with VinFast, with their deep pockets and seemingly methodical growth, they seemed on the surface like they had their act together a bit more than the typical EV startup, I don’t know, guess I just assumed they’d get off to a smoother start
Methodical? That implies they took their time, which from my understanding they very much did not. Wasn’t a large chunk of the development on this car done in only a couple of years? I could be wrong, but that jives pretty well with the rash of quality issues they seem to have, even aside from the recall.
How long should it take? Seems more than 3 years you end up building an out of date car.
They were invented in the 60’s and of course anything to get rid of Cobalt is probably a good thing for US companies. But the high potential energy density and the nonlinear discharge and charging response from this chemistry probably give some pause to going down the rabbit hole without a lot more testing. Sion being the most successful arguably with this tech and the battery powered HAPS they made with ADS, but they seem to have abandoned this battery tech in favor of lithium-metal batteries.
The BMS to handle this is going to be complicated. But that tech has mostly been figured out. That was not the case 20 years ago, let alone 60 years ago.
I’m wondering if we’re ever going to see a rechargeable metallic hydrogen battery(not to be confused with NiMH batteries, I mean an actual metallic hydrogen battery). THAT would really pique my interest.
Back in 2004, Sion Power had prototype LiS batteries that exceeded 400 Wh/kg specific capacity.
Among the best off the shelf LiIon such as that used in the Tesla Model 3 are at about 280 Wh/kg.
I think what Stellantis wants to do can be done. The technology isn’t exactly new and decades have passed since it was first showcased.
However, a battery fire of LiS batteries is going to smell absolutely terrible over a wide area!
The real question is whether Lyten has the capability to produce what they want at a reasonable cost. I don’t inherently trust startups to have the capability they claim, since too many have just been in the business of hype.
But, yeah, if Stellantis has done their due diligence, this could be a very good move that creates very smelly fires.
When your electric Hellcat or Demon self immolates, it could even have the smell of fire and brimstone. Which I think could be a selling point.