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Vietnam’s VinFast looks to tiny EV, priced at less than $10,000, to change its fortunes

Vietnamese automaker VinFast, for a short time the third-most valuable car company in the world, has a big problem: It just can't sell enough cars.

Idle factories bleed money and the company's financial health is at stake. After finding the U.S. market a tough nut to crack, Vinfast is hoping its tiniest and cheapest car yet — a roughly 10-foot-long pure battery electric mini-SUV priced at $9,200 and called the VF3 — will become Vietnam's "national car" and win over consumers in Asian markets.

Designed specifically for the Vietnamese and other Asian markets, the VF3 is priced for "mass appeal," according to VinFast. It expects bigger sales for it than from earlier models that were meant mainly for export to western countries, Le Thi Thuy, Vingroup's chairperson, said in an earnings call in April.

VinFast was dreaming of breaking into the big leagues of global automakers when it launched sales in the U.S. last year and listed its shares on the Nasdaq, where its market value briefly surpassed those of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. in late August.

Investor enthusiasm has since cooled, and its shares are trading below $4 from a peak of $82.35. VinFast is facing delays in construction of a $4 billion factory in North Carolina, where the company said in an email that it is reviewing and evaluating "all aspects of the construction process." It's facing legal troubles over a crash that killed four people in California. It's also dealing with allegations of patent infringement.

VinFast's future matters for Vietnam, both because its ambitions dovetail with the Communist Party's own goals, and because of parent company Vingroup's large role in the Vietnamese economy. The conglomerate began as an instant noodle company in