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Paris show: Aussies help to steer VinFast

Vietnamese auto start-up gets Holden staff know-how as it gears up for 2019 launch

4 Oct 2018

By RON HAMMERTON in PARIS

FORMER Holden engineers from Australia are helping to build an all-new car company from scratch in Vietnam.
 
With Holden closing its manufacturing operations in October 2017, the redundant employees have found new roles with VinFast, the fledgling automotive arm of a sprawling Vietnamese industrial group Vingroup that has major holdings in property, retailing, education and health services in the Asian country.
 
Due to launch its first two products next year, the company made a splash at the Paris motor show this week when it wheeled out former British soccer star David Beckham to show off prototypes for the new VinFast line.
 
Based on hand-me-down BMW platforms and engines and designed by Italy’s Pininfarina design house, the 5 Series-based Lux A2.0 sedan and X5-based SA2.0 large SUV were mobbed by journalists from around the globe wanting to know what the previously unknown brand was all about.
 
The cashed-up company is building a new factory in the north Vietnam port city of Haiphong in readiness to start pilot production of the new vehicles in March ahead of full production in September 2019.
 
Former Holden engineers, led by one-time Holden Elizabeth manufacturing plant manager Shaun Calvert – now VinFast vice-president of engineering – are working on the project, effectively starting from scratch to build a new Vietnamese motor industry.
 
Ex-Holden supply chain experts who suddenly found themselves out of work last year are also involved in the project that, ultimately, could see VinFast cars being shipped to Australia.
 
A former Ford powertrain engineer, Brit Phil Lake, told GoAuto on the Paris show stand that much of the engineering work was being done in Austria, using BMW technology.
 
He said the company had elected to start with luxury cars to make a statement, showing that it could build sophisticated high-end vehicles, before moving into other categories.
 
Like Australia, General Motors last year stopped manufacturing in Vietnam, and VinFast has elected to step into the void.
 
It has bought the rights to GM products for the company, and apart from the two aforementioned luxury cars, it plans to build a small, simple GM product under licence for mass consumption.
 
The company has no immediate plans to invade western markets, including Australia, but Mr Lake said that ultimately it would like to export its products.
 
Asked if VinFast was planning right-hand-drive vehicles, Mr Lake said it had none in its immediate portfolio, but under its fast development cycle that skips stages such as clay modelling, it could bring RHD cars to readiness in just 12 months once such a decision was taken.
 
The two Lux vehicles shown in Paris are powered by a superseded BMW N20 2.0-litre petrol engine in two states of tune – 130kW/300Nm and 170kW/350Nm.
 
Like the original BMW cars, the VinFast Lux products are both rear-wheel drive, with an all-wheel-drive option on the SUV.
 
And also like BMW, they employ ZF’s ubiquitous eight-speed automatic transmission.
 
The company looked to many western suppliers such as Bosch for off-the-shelf technologies to speed the development process.

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