It was once one of the most dangerous waterways in the world, heavily mined and bombed during the final stages of the Vietnam War, but today, Haiphong Harbor has become the heart of the country's economic boom.
And, if things go according to plan, it will soon become home to the world's newest automobile company, with nearly half of the 827-acre factory complex Haiphong-based VinFast is now building based on land reclaimed from the sea.
Set to unveil two new models at the Paris Motor Show early next month, VinFast is the brainchild of Pham Nhat Vuong, a Vietnam native who, over the past quarter century, parlayed $40,000 in loans into an empire worth an estimated $10 billion. His Vingroup now operates a network of shopping malls, apartment complexes, spas, resorts, hospitals and schools across the country. VinFast marks its first entry into manufacturing. Its biggest test to date will come as the world gets its first glimpse of its products next month. Then, less than a year from now, Vietnamese consumers may get the chance to own one.
Initial plans call for the new carmaker to focus on the Vietnamese market. With the country's GDP growing by an estimated 6 to 7 percent annually, automotive sales are expected to soar over the coming years. Even so, VinFast's massive new production center would have enough capacity to nearly double the size of the domestic market, and company officials are looking at opportunities to export, primarily to Southeast Asia.
Jim DeLuca, the start-up's CEO, just smiles when the question is posed about whether the company's ambitions extend even further. DeLuca is a veteran Asia hand, having spent a decade working for General Motors in Korea and China before retiring in 2016. He received an unexpected call from Vingroup the following year, which drove him "out of a comfortable retirement."