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Vietnam EV maker VinFast to shift HQ to Singapore ahead of IPO, first exports

By Phuong Nguyen and Kevin Krolicki

May 24 (Reuters) - Vietnam's VinFast is shifting its headquarters to Singapore as the fledgling electric vehicle (EV) maker readies for a public listing and the first production run of cars for U.S. and European markets, its chief executive told Reuters.

The three-year-old unit of conglomerate Vingroup JSC will start building its VF8 sport utility vehicle (SUV) next week, its own EV batteries in August, and a $4 billion U.S. factory by summer-end, Le Thi Thu Thuy said in an interview.

In the meantime, VinFast has filed for an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States through a Singapore-based holding company - though market conditions might push the deal into 2023, Vingroup said earlier this month.

"We feel that Singapore is a jurisdiction that will give investors more confidence," Thuy said of her currently Hanoi-based company. "We put ourselves in the shoes of the investors."

Parent Vingroup is Vietnam's largest listed company by market capitalisation, with businesses as varied as retail and real estate. It created VinFast in 2019 to build conventional petrol-powered cars before switching exclusively to EVs in 2021.

Though the market is crowded with established automakers vying with a miscellany of startups, Vingroup in May still said it saw a global EV shortage which it deemed a "golden chance".

With a local line-up of just one small EV, the e34, VinFast has invested heavily to develop models for overseas. Alongside its VF8, it has also been developing the larger VF9, though that was delayed by about a month because of the impact of COVID-19 containment measures in Shanghai on suppliers, Thuy said.

"We will deliver cars to the international market by the end of the year," Thuy said, starting with the VF8. "All of our effort is on the start of production for the VF8."

VinFast is particularly betting on the U.S. market where it hopes to sell the two SUVs with prices from about $41,000 with a battery leasing plan. It aims to open its first showrooms in California by early July, including a flagship in Santa Monica, Thuy said.

The automaker also plans to build a plant in North Carolina where it is seeking government financing, with construction starting by summer-end and production beginning in 2024.

"Like any big corporate, we always consider all potential financing transactions," Thuy said.

VinFast's first VF8 models will be powered by batteries from South Korea's Samsung SDI Co Ltd, but the automaker has been developing its own batteries as a hedge against future shortage, Thuy said.

VinFast will start making the batteries in August and expects to have the capacity to produce about 3,000 vehicles with its own batteries by year-end, she said.

Thuy said she planned to spend a lot more time in Singapore where VinFast is in the process of buying a building, turning what has been a paper company into an operating hub that would include an office and housing for staff and executives.

"We are determined to establish the company in Singapore," Thuy said. (Reporting by Phuong Nguyen and Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Christopher Cushing)