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North Carolina is getting its first car manufacturing plant. Here's what you need to know

 VinFast, a Vietnamese automaker, plans to produce its all-electric SUVs at a plant in Chatham County. The company has pledged an investment of $4 billion and the creation of 7,500 jobs and, if its goals are reached, could get back more than $316 million from the state.
Rusty Jacobs, WUNC
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VinFast, a Vietnamese automaker, plans to produce its all-electric SUVs at a plant in Chatham County. The company has pledged an investment of $4 billion and the creation of 7,500 jobs and, if its goals are reached, could get back more than $316 million from the state.

Nothing bridges a political divide like a jobs announcement. That held true on Tuesday in Raleigh, where state officials often pitted against one another in partisan squabbles, joined to hail the arrival of North Carolina's first car manufacturer.

VinFast is a four-year-old Vietnamese company that has been producing gas-powered and all-electric vehicles for its domestic market and now plans to enter the global stage with a facility in Chatham County.

"They started from scratch a few years ago but it was scratch with a lot of knowledge behind it," said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst with S&P Global Mobility, explaining that the relatively young company acquired executives from a lot of established automakers, including General Motors.

VinFast has pledged to invest $4 billion to construct a manufacturing center on more than 1,900 acres of what is called the Triangle Innovation Point megasite in Moncure which is about 30 minutes southwest of Raleigh. The plant will produce electric cars and buses along with EV batteries and other electric-vehicle components.

"We are seeing the transition of our economy from being primarily based on textiles, furniture, and tobacco," said state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), joining his frequent adversary, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, at Tuesday's news conference in front of the Raleigh Convention Center, calling the company's plans "monumental."

"We are now becoming a destination for state-of-the-art manufacturing, research, and technology," Berger added.

In January, Cooper signed an executive order that set a goal of having 1.25 million zero-emission vehicles in North Carolina by 2030, and for 50% of sales of new vehicles in North Carolina to be zero-emission by 2030. VinFast's upcoming facility seems to help further that goal.

State Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Chatham, Durham) also addressed the crowd, boasting that this announcement is just the latest in a string of economic development coups for the state.

 State Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Chatham, Durham) addressing an audience gathered to hear the announcement that VinFast, a Vietnamese automaker, has pledged to invest $4 billion to build a plant for making electric cars at a site in his district.
Rusty Jacobs, WUNC
/
State Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Chatham, Durham) addressing an audience gathered to hear the announcement that VinFast, a Vietnamese automaker, has pledged to invest $4 billion to build a plant for making electric cars at a site in his district.

"Landing this project, landing the Toyota project, getting Apple, getting Google, we have sent a message to the rest of the country, to the rest of the world, that we will now be a leader in innovation and investment," Reives said.

Last year, in March, Google announced it was creating a hub in Durham for engineering Cloud computing products. Apple followed in April with plans to build a campus in Research Triangle Park and then, in December, Toyota said it would manufacture batteries for electric vehicles in the Piedmont, at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite.

But until VinFast's announcement, North Carolina had yet to land a car-making plant, despite efforts to lure such companies as Mercedes-Benz and Toyota with robust incentives.

 VinFast's VF 8, a five-passenger all-electric SUV, one of the vehicles that would be built at the planned Chatham County site.
Rusty Jacobs, WUNC
/
VinFast's VF 8, a five-passenger all-electric SUV, one of the vehicles that would be built at the planned Chatham County site.

Based on its $4 billion investment, and promised tax revenues generated by the creation of 7,500 jobs, the company could earn back more than $316 million from the state over 32 years if it reaches its goals.

"The way the job investment grants go, you don't get the tax credit until you have the jobs in place and there are claw-back provisions in the event that this doesn't work out," Gov. Cooper told reporters. "But we feel very confident that this will be a positive move for our state."

VinFast hopes to start construction on its Chatham County site this year once its permit is granted. The company aims to roll out its first North Carolina-made EV in 2024.

 VinFast's VF 9, a seven-passenger all-electric SUV, another vehicle that would be produced at the Vietnamese automaker's planned site in Chatham County.
Rusty Jacobs, WUNC
/
VinFast's VF 9, a seven-passenger all-electric SUV, another vehicle that would be produced at the Vietnamese automaker's planned site in Chatham County.

But a startup company faces challenges into an increasingly crowded marketplace for electric vehicles, according to Brinley.

"Being electric is no longer a differentiator," she said, pointing out that a lot of new car companies are already producing electric vehicles as are established automakers.

"So VinFast is going to have to come in and find some other way to really connect with American consumers and get on the radar and then get on the consideration list, and that takes time," Brinley said.

Brinley added that it would take VinFast at least 10 years to establish a foothold in the U.S. market.

WUNC Reporter Celeste Gracia contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC. Rusty previously worked at WUNC as a reporter and substitute host from 2001 until 2007 and now returns after a nine-year absence during which he went to law school at Carolina and then worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Wake County.