Selex Motors, backed by the Asian Development Bank, said its bikes cost less than $1,000 because buyers do not pay for the batteries upfront. Instead they use a network of automated lockers to swap batteries when power is needed, paying as they go — essentially battery ATMs.
Selex said it sells the electric vehicles to Lazada, DHL and other delivery businesses that have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions. Billing itself as the region’s first EV maker to target last-mile logistics, the startup is expanding to consumers and touting its patented battery technology as compatible with 70% of electric scooters on the market.
CEO Nguyen Nguyen, who once held a top-secret aerospace job, said in an interview that the swapping infrastructure serves the public good, especially as the global EV revolution prompts concerns about how to secure metals for batteries, optimize their life spans and dispose of them responsibly.
Schneider Electric Energy Access Asia, ADB Ventures and Vietnam’s Touchstone Partners are among the investors that have pumped a total of $5.5 million into Selex, according to Crunchbase. Its rivals looking to electrify Vietnam’s 70 million motorbikes include Dat Bike, which received some free publicity when a “Game of Thrones” actor recently rode its scooter, and VinFast, which produces EV cars and bikes under the powerful conglomerate Vingroup.
“For customers also it’s beneficial, and for manufacturers, if we have a standardized battery,” Nguyen said. Exclusivity “doesn’t make sense,” he said, because energy infrastructure “belongs to the public.”
Not everyone follows that philosophy. Tech titans have tried to lock customers into their ecosystems, compelling authorities to step in. The U.S. pushed Tesla to open its charging stations to other cars, while Europe forced Apple to make phone chargers interoperable with those of its peers.
When asked if Selex’s compatible batteries could encourage drivers to buy competing EVs, Nguyen said, “That’s the whole point. We want the battery-swapping network to be shared and commonly used because that helps overall.”
There’s a bike for every budget in Vietnam, where it’s possible to nab an old moped for $500, or splash out on a new model for 100 times that price.
Delivery vehicles are just one corner of a small EV market in Vietnam, which has been slower than its neighbors to take up electric cars. Besides EV taxis, buses and other public transit, United Nations advisers have said it makes most sense to electrify two-wheelers in a country teeming with motorbikes.
After the interview, Nguyen walked out onto a sundrenched street to a blue battery locker about the size of a fridge in front of his Ho Chi Minh City office, where he demonstrated how a courier for Grab, Baemin or Viettel would use the network: After dropping off a parcel or passenger, the driver sees on his phone that the bike’s battery is losing juice. He taps the phone to locate a locker and, once there, to open it and switch out the battery.
Logistics are “the blood vessels” of the economy, said military-owned mail courier Viettel Post, which is adopting electric trucks and bikes, including Selex’s.
This strategy is “contributing to reducing emissions to the environment while still providing optimal transportation performance,” Dinh Thanh Son, deputy director at Viettel Post, told Nikkei Asia.
Alibaba-owned Lazada gave input in developing the Selex bikes, which are used in its e-commerce deliveries.
“Thanks to its unique design, Lazada Logistics’ e-motorbikes offer exceptional transportation capacity [in terms of weight and volume] and are highly convenient to operate with” battery swaps, the company told Nikkei. They also have lower transport and “maintenance costs than regular gas-powered motorbikes.”
The bikes can hold three batteries, made from Samsung or LG cells, and be modified to ferry packages or people. Lazada uses a different swapping network in Indonesia, where it also deploys bicycles and subsidizes some drivers’ EV payments.
Nguyen hopes to break even in three years and enter Indonesia and Thailand in two years. Both countries have bigger economies than Vietnam, but also competitors like Gojek-backed Electrum, which told Nikkei it aims to supply 2 million e-motorbikes by 2030.
Gojek, for its part, is going electric in Vietnam, too, where it inked a deal with Dat Bike last week to provide EVs. That follows ride-hailing rival Be Group’s similar deal to secure VinFast EVs in March.
Nguyen would not say how many bikes his company has sold. Vietnam has more than 1 million electric scooters, believed to be the most in Southeast Asia.
|Selex CEO Nguyen Nguyen dislikes “walled gardens” in which companies require accessories that don’t work outside their networks, such as batteries or chargers. Photo by Lien Hoang.|
With two friends, Nguyen founded Selex after working for the government, researching highly classified defense products he would not discuss even with his wife.
In a company T-shirt declaring, “I’M POSSIBLE,” the engineer said Selex would use customer data to expand the business beyond energy as a service, though drivers may opt out. New services could include predictive maintenance and selling add-ons, like insurance, he said.
Besides competing with deep-pocketed giants going electric, from Honda to Piaggio, Nguyen noted the arduous race for battery metals. Vietnam is ramping up its rare earths development, but China leads in mining and processing the metals, while the world relies on Congolese cobalt and Indonesian nickel.
“It’s going to be a long-term problem, because it seems like the revolution is depending on resources, on certain minerals, and it’s not really well spread [out],” Nguyen said. “It’s heavily located in a few countries, and that will depend on geopolitics.”
Source: Nikkei Asia
South Korea’s Hana Micron to invest $1bn in Vietnam chip production
The South Korean manufacturer of chip packaging and memory products told Nikkei Asia it is moving equipment to its new, second factory in Bac Giang province to “prepare for production and we have a busy schedule with customer audits, etc.” The province hosts three Apple suppliers and, with neighboring Bac Ninh, is known for making the bulk of Samsung phones globally.
The chip industry was a focus of U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Vietnam in September, when his office said U.S. companies Amkor and Marvell will expand in the country. Days later Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh toured the U.S. facilities of Nvidia and Synopsys seeking further investment.
“Hana Micron’s Bac Giang project plays a key role in the socioeconomic development of the region and … follows the development direction of the government,” human resource manager Hwang Chul Min told Nikkei. “It will create opportunities to attract more high-tech projects and lay the foundation for the development of the semiconductor production ecosystem.”
The string of recent announcements has lent momentum both to global chipmakers, which are diversifying supply chains due to geopolitics, and to Vietnam, which aims to attract the companies after years of stalled attempts.
But challenges remain. Samsung, a client of Hana Micron, declined government requests to build a chip factory, with one source telling Nikkei the company “already invested too much in Vietnam.” The country also saw its biggest chip investor, Intel, choose rival Malaysia for a major expansion.
Vietnam is struggling to keep up with skills and infrastructure demands as well. Hana Micron will employ 4,000 people and cooperate with Vietnam-Korea Industrial Technical College for hiring, according to a post on Saturday on the government website of Bac Giang. The producer has a factory in Bac Ninh, too, where its job postings seek staff for information technology, sourcing, and production planning, as well as line workers.
“Hana Micron received special attention from Bac Giang province in providing conditions to ensure continuous production such as electricity and water,” the provincial website said. In early June, power shortages forced the province, one of several, to schedule hours-long brownouts, a disruption that has concerned investors across the country and across sectors.
The web post added that Hana Micron’s plant occupies six hectares, while “another semiconductor factory, invested in by Taiwan,” will start operations in 2024.
Among other investors, chip software maker Synopsys has kept an eye on China risks as it shifts to Vietnam. The U.S. company joined the September launch of a Hanoi center for chip design, a specialization that Vietnamese companies FPT and Viettel are also pursuing.
The Southeast Asian country so far has failed to bring in the billions of dollars it would take to build an advanced plant for semiconductor fabrication.
“Vietnam still needs a unified, national approach to semiconductors,” said a presentation by the government National Innovation Center at a Friday chip conference in Hanoi.
“Vietnam is poised for a breakthrough expansion of its semiconductor industry,” Vice Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Huy Dung said at the event, according to a statement. The country is “ready to welcome investors in the semiconductor industry with highly preferential mechanisms.”
These include perks such as a possible four-year tax exemption, NIC said.
Source: Nikkei Asia
Vietnam now a leading game producer: insiders
Fagen Wasanni Technologies, also said the country is part of the Southeast Asia region, one of the fastest-growing gaming markets worldwide, with a market size of 5 billion USD and 270 million gamers.
Among them, the mobile gaming sector is leading the growth trajectory due to its affordability and market penetration capabilities, as evaluated by the game-focused website Pocketgamer.
In this developmental context, there are now many Vietnamese enterprises capable of producing and operating online games instead of relying on imported products.
Vietnam has risen to the 5th position in the list of top countries for game production worldwide, according to a report from data tracking company DataAI & AppMagic.
In the first quarter of this year, 4.2 billion app downloads from games were created by Vietnamese developers, which highlights the country’s growing position in the industry.
Several Vietnamese app developers, including major names like Falcon Global, ABI Global, Zego Global, and Rocket Studio, are among the top 50 companies in e-game production. The applications developed by these companies were downloaded more than 100,000 times in 2022.
A recent assessment by Bloomberg also acknowledges Vietnam as a powerhouse in the gaming industry, being among the top five countries globally in terms of mobile game production, based on download numbers in the first half of 2023.
Vietnam’s thriving talent pool and proximity to the culturally diverse region are also reasons for this growth, as cited by Samuel Stevenin, the general manager of Virtuos, a game maker that entered the Vietnamese market in 2011.
He also highlights the cultural emphasis on developing mobile products in Vietnam and Southeast Asia as a whole, as well as the expertise and passion of local talents in creating high-quality digital content and world-class games. The explosive success of games like Axie Infinity and Flappy Bird are among many inspiring success stories that have made a significant impact.
VinFast’s new sales approach has US car dealers cautious but interested
The carmaker, which has shipped nearly 3,000 vehicles to North America since late last year, said on Tuesday it was changing its distribution model, which has been based on Tesla’s direct-to-consumer approach.
Now it wants to sell through dealers as well.
Several U.S. dealers contacted by Reuters are open to the idea, but said they need to hear more details about VinFast’s plans, including sales strategy, requirements for dealers, the company’s parts distribution plan and the vehicle warranty.
“Is there room for more brands? Yeah, there probably is. It’s just too early to tell,” said George Glassman, president of Glassman Automotive Group, which sells five automotive brands outside Detroit. “I’d need to see more before I could make an intelligent decision.”
VinFast made its U.S. market debut on Tuesday and shares soared, at one point giving the startup a market valuation of $85 billion – far higher than that of Ford or General Motors at the time. Since then, VinFast shares have retreated, and were down 33.6% at $20 as of Thursday’s close.
As VinFast ramps up efforts, it faces tough tests. The new hybrid sales plan is just another challenge and the luxury carmaker is already talking to dealers.
“Opening our own stores is great but it takes a lot of time,” CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy told Reuters on Tuesday. “Joining forces with other partners to go faster has always been our nature.”
Officials at VinFast, which has opened 122 showrooms globally as of June with most in the U.S. West, said aside from direct-to-customer sales, the carmaker would partner with dealers to open new points of sale in North America and other global markets.
“We are currently defining the terms of this new model and discussing with potential partners. More details will be announced in due course,” Thuy said in a statement.
U.S. dealers said there are too many unanswered questions, including how VinFast will distribute parts needed to make repairs.
‘DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS’
“The dealer has to be concerned with their (own) reputation,” said Scott Fink, CEO of Fink Automotive Group, which owns VW and Subaru stores near Tampa, Florida. “If I sell a car to you and you can’t get a fender, you’re going to be pissed off at me. I’m not going to do that.”
“The devil’s in the details,” he added.
While Tesla has established itself as EV market leader, other startups have struggled to get off the ground, dealers said. On top of that, VinFast will be competing with established brands with their own EVs, including GM, Ford and Hyundai.
“The first thing you have to look at is are you going to be around in five years? That’s a big concern,” said Andrew DiFeo, dealer principal at Hyundai of St. Augustine, south of Jacksonville, Florida.
Several dealers said VinFast may need to offer sweetened profit margins to dealers to account for the added risk. On top of that, the automaker may need to provide industry-leading warranty coverage on its vehicles to assure buyers.
Those possibilities leave industry consultant and former GM executive Warren Browne cold.
“It is a death strategy,” he said of the plan to use dealers. “There is too much value extracted by serving dealers. That’s a strategy Wall Street will whip them on.”
But with dealerships selling for historic prices, enough dealer owners will make the bet, said Rhett Ricart, CEO of Ricart Automotive Group in Columbus, Ohio, which sells 10 auto brands. Many also appreciate that VinFast is building a U.S. plant.
Dealers also said the lack of an established name is not a deal-breaker as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai all started small and grew into successes.
“If it’s a good product and it’s got a great warranty on it, Americans will buy it,” Ricart said.
Ultimately, dealers are always looking for unique opportunities, said Beau Boeckmann, president of Galpin Motors, which sells 12 brands in the Los Angeles area including EV startup Polestar .
Boeckmann, who visited VinFast’s plant in Vietnam last year and met with CEO Thuy, remains open to the opportunity.
“Dealers are entrepreneurial and they’re risk-takers,” he said. “Sales people love to be sold.”
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