Since announcing plans to enter the U.S. market, Vietnamese automaker VinFast has faced a series of problems and responded with a series of management shakeups. The latest sees its CEO “transition” to a new job, while founder Pham Nhat Vuong takes over her post. The automaker also said Saturday that it has replaced its chief financial officer.
As it struggles to fix early product problems and boost sluggish sales, Vietnamese automaker VinFast announced the latest in a series of management changes, the latest involving two key members of its C-suite.
The most significant move sees Chief Executive Officer Le Thi Thu Thuy swapping jobs with Board Chairman Pham Nhat Vuong. Vuong, the founder of the country’s first automotive company, will remain on board while also taking on the position of VinFast managing director.
At the same time, Chief Financial Officer David Mansfield, one of the few remaining Western executives, will leave the company, replaced by Nguyen Thi Lan Anh. She had been overseeing manufacturing and procurement operations, while also managing the construction of the $2 billion VinFast assembly plant near Raleigh, North Carolina.
Vietnam’s richest man
“It is the right time to evolve the company’s leadership as it enters the next phase of its development,” VinFast’s Board of Directors said in a statement.
The generally publicity-shy Vuong is an Asian Horatio Alger. He went to college in Moscow shortly after the Vietnam War ended, then borrowed a reported $40,000 to set up an instant noodle company in Ukraine. He eventually sold that to Nestle for $150 million.
Vuong took that money back to Vietnam where he set up VinFast’s parent, the VinGroup, diversifying into spas and resorts, apartment complexes, high-end shopping malls and even schools and hospitals. While some operations have been sold off, he is listed as the richest man in Vietnam, and the first man from that country to crack into the billionaires list compiled by Forbes.
He launched VinFast in 2017 in the northern port city of Haiphong, initially producing a licensed version of the BMW X5. Nearly three years ago, the company announced it would completely switch to EVs and said it would enter the U.S. market by the end of 2022.
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Getting things on track
“While my title is changing, I am happy to say that I will continue to engage with VinFast’s external stakeholders and the company’s fundraising efforts,” Thuy said in a statement.
Last year was a challenging one for VinFast. The automaker’s entry into the U.S. market was supposed to occur in December 2022 when the first 999 VF 8 EVs arrived in California. But a series of issues pushed back the first customer handover until March 2023. A subsequent media drive yielded mixed to negative reviews, critics citing a variety of problems, including software issues.
Then, it appeared the planned SPAC merger meant to get it listed on the Nasdaq would fall apart. Worse, there was questions about whether the company would be able to break ground, as planned, for the North Carolina assembly plant that is supposed to begin production by 2026.
In July, however, VinFast broke ground for the new assembly plant and, barely a monthlater, the SPAC deal came together.
Stock market rollercoaster
Investor interest soared, VinFast shares hitting a high of $93 before settling back sharply. It began a brief rebound at the end of November before settling back and has been floating in single digits for the past three months. Shares, traded under the ticker VFS, closed Friday at $6.90.
It didn’t help that VinFast reported a third-quarter loss of $623 million. And, even after a cash infusion — a $1 billion grant from founder Vuong, it continues to seek out new funding.
Despite such problems, company officials continue to push an upbeat measure, noting that, despite slow sales, they continue to build their distribution network. The initial plan called for focusing exclusively on the California market. In recent weeks, however, VinFast has signed on retailers in Texas, New York and Kansas — and a major new dealership near its Raleigh plant opened last week.
Retailers are betting the automaker can resolve the problems plaguing the VF 8. But it’s also a bit behind schedule introducing the larger, more luxurious VF 9 — several sources indicating VinFast doesn’t want to run into the same harsh reviews again. Also pushed back are smaller, more affordable EVs, including the VF 7 and VF 8.
But the Vietnamese automaker hopes to make more news at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. On Tuesday, it will pull the wraps off two new concept vehicles. As editor Michael Strong reported last week, one of the two concepts coming to Las Vegas is the VF 3, a small microcar the company describes as a “mini eSUV.” It could target the sub-$30,000 range, the company is hinting, an EV segment that is severely short of product.