I’ve been to Vietnam once — about a decade ago, to be exact. At the time, I was pleased that the Philippines still had a more advanced state of transportation, judging by the Vietnamese’s preferred means of getting around. I’m referring to the motorcycle, which ruled the streets of Ho Chi Minh City during my visit like plunderers rule politics. It was my first time to be in a place where motorbikes far outnumbered cars. The ratio was like 50 to 1 (at least that’s what it appeared to me). Two-wheelers looked like ants that came from all directions and swarmed a bar of chocolate.
In fact, even the automotive manufacturer that hosted the trip had brought me and my colleagues to Vietnam not for a passenger car but for a commercial vehicle. In my mind, Vietnam was the equivalent of a Philippine province in terms of motorized mobility. In other words, in a bet between the two countries as to which one would be able to produce an original (read: homegrown) car brand first, I would put my last peso on the Philippines.
Well, news alert: I just lost that last peso.
Vietnam, believe it or not, has announced a local auto company called VinFast (no relation to Vin Diesel or the Fast & Furious movie franchise). The firm is a subsidiary of the Vingroup conglomerate, which has interests in other industries like real estate, medical care and farming. The new brand has already come up with a pair of production models — a sedan and an SUV — which it is expected to show off at the Paris Motor Show next month. Designed by Pininfarina, the two vehicles are reportedly based on BMW’s previous-generation 5-Series and X5.
If you think this is just some hype-generating publicity stunt meant to promote Vietnam’s car industry, then you have to know that VinFast already has a 500,000-square-meter manufacturing facility located at the Dinh Vu-Cat Hai Economic Zone in Hai Phong City. These guys are as serious as Rodrigo Duterte at the faintest mention of Antonio Trillanes’s name.
And it looks like VinFast might actually succeed in this ambitious venture, as no less than the likes of Bosch, Magna and Siemens are said to have agreed to serve as suppliers. The company is apparently even already entertaining the possibility of exporting its cars to other markets. We’ll soon see whether these products are any good.
But even if the cars turn out to be mediocre, it’s still pretty impressive that a Vietnamese group has been able to roll out two domestic production vehicles. Ahead of the Philippines, just in case I’m not making my point clear enough. Think about it: While we’re debating endlessly about idiotic traffic rules, Vietnam has put up its very own automaker. While we’re cussing at each other on social media over Grab and other transport network companies, Vietnam is already set to flaunt its first cars at an international motor show. And while we’re struggling with the status of our so-called Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy program, Vietnam is now getting the attention of the global car community.
Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from this. The only way a respectable local car company can ever be a reality is if a huge business organization like Vingroup funds its establishment. And if you’re catching my drift, I’m saying the Philippines needs the likes of San Miguel Corporation to get the ball rolling.
Which isn’t really a far-fetched idea. Ramon S. Ang, lest you forget, loves his cars like I love my rice. Anything is possible, guys. Anything. Time to start concocting a nice-sounding Filipino auto brand, then?