A recent virtual sitdown I had with some employees of Vietnam’s unofficial national automaker, VinFast, convinced me why the country 29 times smaller than China can become the next electric superpower. Here are six reasons why I believe this is going to happen.
- Hanoi is the 2nd most polluted city in Asia and Vietnam ranks 15th in the list of nearly a hundred countries and territories with the worst air quality in the world. And the Vietnamese are ashamed of it. This embarrassment is partly why electric transportation has quickly seeped into the national psyche.
Consider this: VinFast electric motorcycle sales peaked after the humiliating announcement was made, plopping the brand into third place behind Yamaha and Honda from almost nothing. The pandemic was contained well in the country, and since commutes were regulated, locally made e-scooters became a huge part of the daily commuter’s transportation, competing squarely with human-powered bicycles.
- There are a couple of geniuses there leading the charge in electric vehicle technology. Hung Bui is one of them. The Vietnamese top-tier AI researcher and alumni of Google’s DeepMind is chief executive of VinAI and leads a squad of talents that will develop the smarts and skills of VinFast’s autonomous driving packet. The software and hardware of that project will be built into every VinFast electric vehicle, and is set for its own market as well as that of the United States and Europe. Hung has over 6,000 citations from more than 200 papers and is the winner of an International Math Olympiad in his youth. He is a genius.
“By July, a fleet of cars will start sending us their data from operating 24/7 in real traffic conditions over millions of miles on roads in the U.S. and Europe, and that’s just the start — the volume of data will only increase,” Hung said in an NVDIA blog.
- VinFast partners with the best. Recently, Hung connected VinFast to the most powerful AI supercomputer in the region — NVIDIA DGX SuperPOD. This link powers VinAI Research, Vingroup’s machine-learning lab now manned by some 200 researchers. This lab will harness the data it collects from projects now running in Europe and elsewhere to design and refine at least a dozen AI models to enable level 3 autonomous driving capabilities for VinFast’s cars. While doing that, it will also process data for healthcare and consumer services.
“NVIDIA is a vital partner for our work in autonomous driving. NVIDIA DRIVE delivers the core compute for our vehicles, delivering advanced sensing and other expanding capabilities,” Bui explained.
- VinFast is open to international cooperation. VinFast’s 2021 Global Showroom Design Competition received approximately 1000 entries from 90 countries across 5 continents, attracting designers from the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and its own backyard — key markets in its global distribution strategy. American Vicky Daroca of the architectural firm “Arkitektura” won the award, and exhibited that VinFast is quickly “globalizing” itself, allowing it to absorb both technology and design genetics into its DNA. Daroca’s win exhibited the Vietnamese carmaker’s openness to learning and assimilating quickly for the mainstream — proven by the designs of its already existing vehicles.
“Outstanding contestants contributed works that are not only breakthrough in presentation of lines, blocks, and layout, but also demonstrations of their ability to diversify building substance and structures in devising extremely creative, new and modern space for VinFast showrooms,” said Ho Tan Duong, President of Vietnam Design (VIDAS), which organized the design competition with VinFast.
- The technology strategy is long term. Two months ago, VinFast again announced working with NVIDIA — specifically, using its DRIVE Xavier system-on-a-chip (SoC) for its VF e34, a compact SUV (C-segment); the VF e35 midsize SUV (D- segment); and the VF e36 full-size SUV (E-segment). All three models will have Level 2–3 autonomous driving capabilities, with about 30 or so smart features. For later models, the DRIVE Orin processor will be used with even higher smart capabilities.
Currently, the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin is the industry’s highest performing AV processor and has capabilities such as cruise planning, locating charging stations and dealerships, theft-risk warning, user habit preferences, self-driving on highways, parking, and more.
“VinFast’s selection of NVIDIA DRIVE will accelerate development of the automaker’s intelligent EVs — delivering new levels of safety and convenience that will help shape the future of transportation in Vietnam, throughout Southeast Asia and the world,” Rishi Dhall, Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles at NVIDIA, said.
- Their strongest asset is not technology. VinFast is committed to being a global electric automaker. And the strongest asset it has in its possession to achieve this goal is the supercharged thinking and indomitable spirit of the people of VinFast, in particular, and those of VinGroup, in general.
Images courtesy of VinFast