An electric vehicle charging. [Image: seksan Mongkhonkhamsao / Getty Images]

Electric Vehicles Powering Up Relations Between North Carolina and Vietnam

ASEAN The Mekong Asia

On March 29, 2022, Vietnamese automaker VinFast announced its first North American plant, which will produce the company’s electric vehicles (EVs), will be based in Raleigh, North Carolina. The plant, which is expected to open in 2024, will produce 150,000 cars per year and support 7,500 jobs by 2027. VinFast is expected to invest $4 billion in the building of the plant. The partnership was highlighted by President Biden in a statement linking the deal to the administration's broader strategy of building a clean energy economy with manufacturing jobs as a central focus.

American customers who are interested in purchasing VinFast’s EVs can also look forward to the opening of VinFast stores in the United States, starting with 60 planned stores in California alone including Los Angeles, where VinFast’s US headquarters is located.

Vietnam, one of ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and one of five mainland Southeast Asian countries in the Mekong River Basin, has a strong trade relationship with the United States. In 2018, Vietnam’s goods and services exports to the United States totaled over $50 billion, the highest of any country in the Mekong region. In the same year, US exports of goods and services to Vietnam were worth a little over $12 billion, narrowly behind neighboring Thailand at nearly $14 billion. Vietnam also sends the 2nd most foreign direct investment to the United States out of all the Mekong Basin countries, totaling $37 million in 2018, and receives the 2nd most FDI from the United States ($2.4 billion to Thailand’s $15 billion). When it comes to jobs, Vietnam supports 7% of all the jobs supported by greenfield investment, the building or expansion of new facilities rather than purchases or merges with existing companies, by ASEAN countries.

This amount of investment bodes well for North Carolina, which as of 2019 has over 14,600 jobs supported by exports to the whole ASEAN region. If the planned VinFast plant achieves its production goals, North Carolina could benefit from greenfield investment from Vietnam in the future, which total $487 million in projects across the United States in 2019.

Vietnam is not the only Asian country to consider North Carolina to be the best place for establishing an EV-based product production base. In December 2021, Japan’s Toyota Motor chose the Greensboro-Randolph area of North Carolina to be the site of its first US EV battery plant. By the time it is completed in 2025, this “mega site” will host a factory that employs over 1,700 people and produces batteries for up to 1.2 million electric vehicles a year.

Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.