The software-as-a-service subscription-everything business model has unfortunately made its way into the car world. we here Drive Don’t particularly care about it, and we’ve consistently duped brands for their weird subscription pricing. But Vinfast, the new Vietnamese automaker with aggressive aspirations in the US market, is planning subscription-style pricing as a cornerstone of its business. When Winfast sells you an electric car, it will lease the battery to you. Exactly how this would work is hopelessly shrouded in mystery, but I’ve dug into as much detail as I can to help you understand it.
The VF8 and VF9 are the two upcoming electric crossovers from VinFast. The two-row VF8 is about the same size as the Volkswagen ID.4, give or take. The VF9 is the same size as the Hyundai Palisade and has three rows of seats. The VF8 can go at least 248 miles from its standard-range pack, or up to 292 miles on its enhanced-range battery in the Eco trim. The VF9 will touch 369 miles in the Eco trim with an advanced-range battery pack. These are both manufacturer estimates, with no EPA testing or category certification issued yet.
On paper, the VF8 and VF9 are very competitive. The VF8’s $40,800 base price undercuts the ID.4 Pro, offering more power and greater range, without a set destination fee. But, unlike the ID.4, the VF8’s base price doesn’t include its battery. Like an old school R/C car, the batteries are sold separately, even if they are installed from the factory. This is where the pricing gets a little unclear.
For an additional $35 (VF8) or $44 (VF9) per month, the driver is allotted 310 miles per month. This adds up to a distance of 3,720 miles per year. For reference, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the average mileage per driver in a year is 13,476. Anything over 310 miles is billed at $0.11 per mile (VF8), or $0.13 per mile (VF9). That’s not enough miles for most drivers, so WinFast offers unlimited plans for the VF8 and VF9 for $110 and $160, respectively.
contract never expires
I pressed three different WinFast contacts for details, including a salesman at a San Mateo WinFast store, a customer service representative from the WinFast hotline, and a WinFast PR representative. There is no origination fee for the lease. There is no price difference between leasing a small battery and a large battery. Winfast says that when the battery drops below 70%, it will replace the battery with a new one. That’s all well and good, but the battery payoff never ends. If you buy a WinFast EV, you’re locked into a forever lease, paying on the battery forever, at least until you sell the vehicle to the next owner. VinFast calls this a “permanent subscription fee for the lifetime of the product.” Winfast isn’t offering a battery purchase option, stressing that the lease could save the heartache of “replacing a battery for $15 or 20 thousand.” Whether this number is the actual cost of the WinFast EV battery is not clear.
WinFast’s careful glossary on its site also tells us that contract pricing is not necessarily fixed. “For WinFirst Pioneers who purchase a VF8 or VF9 in 2022 or 2023, customers will enjoy permanent subscription rates for the entire life of their vehicle,” the website states, adding that the subscription rate is not irreversible. I asked the Winfast salesman if there was a possibility of changing the battery lease payment amount in the future, and the salesman said no, citing the lock-in value for the first owners. Still, it gets complicated for owners of second, third and beyond.
According to a WinFast representative, “When a WinFast Vehicle is sold to a secondary buyer, the new owner will either assume the remaining terms of the existing Battery Subscription Agreement/agreement or enter into a new Battery Subscription Agreement/agreement.”
I asked if pricing might change upon renewal or change of hands, and no point of contact gave me a concrete answer. Anyone who buys a used Winfast will pay the lease no matter what. Ten years from now, when WinFast vehicles inevitably make their way to low-cost used car lots, will any cheap dealer or cash-strapped buyer be willing to pay for the purchase price plus a monthly subscription? Hell, would new EV buyers be willing to be on the financial hook for a major portion of the vehicle’s functionality, as long as they own the vehicle?
At the very least, the car is actually $40,800. Not there
At $40,800, the VinFast VF8 could be a dark horse alternative to electric crossovers from established manufacturers. But, it’s not really $40,800. In the 72-month loan era, a WinFast VF8 battery would add an additional $7,920 to its base price over the same period. That is, if the $110 lease price doesn’t change. Except, at the end of the loan, you’re still paying for a portion of the car that’s necessary for the vehicle to function, and it appears you may never own it for some reason. ADAS is also a membership. Winfast is offering one year of free ADAS to first buyers, but from there it will be a subscription. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but WinFast expects to let us know about it soon.
From my perspective, WinFast’s business model doesn’t seem all that different from its rental furniture locations like Rent-a-Center or Aaron. They offer temptingly low prices per week, with terms that don’t make buyers pay wildly more for a good quality item. Doesn’t Winfast’s offering equal real-world pricing? Maybe not.
There is buzz that WinFast could possibly offer a battery buyout option in 2024, but the pricing, timeline and logistics of such a deal are not known. VinFast also hasn’t finished the terms of its current battery leasing structure. I asked what happens if the battery lessee doesn’t pay, and WinFast doesn’t know yet.
“VinFast will work with banking partners to incorporate the default terms of our vehicle financing/lease and battery subscription agreements/contracts so that all parties are aware of the measures to be taken in the event of non-payment of battery subscription fees. Can go,” a Winfast representative said. A separate representative, whom I spoke to via the Winfast customer service hotline, said the car would be limited to “minimum mileage.” I asked what the “minimum mileage” limit is, and she said she didn’t know.
Can you default the battery even if the car is paid for in full? It seems very possible, unfortunately. In the EV startup world, high flash, big promises, yet vague implications, doesn’t seem uncommon for manufacturers who don’t have much to show from a sleek computer rendering or body-in-white prototype that barely moves. your power. Although WinFast’s stores are open, it’s taking reservation money, and promising to deliver the cars as soon as possible this November. Still, no one quite knows what the buying and ownership process will look like.
If WinFast expects Americans to pay more than $40,800 and possibly hundreds of additional dollars per month, it needs to get serious about defining the terms of its battery lease. From what we can tell right now, WinFast appears to be the epitome of car-through-microtransactions entering the industry. where is the line?
We look forward to seeing how Winfast makes its way through the US market. It has already opened six stores in California, has plans for 27 more, and even has a commitment to build a factory in North Carolina. Creativity in sales models and pricing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but coming out of the gate with such an opaque cost structure that looks like an indefinite lease is worth placing some skepticism on.