Jul 29, 2020 / 11:31

Covid-19 battle: Vietnam writes unbelievable story

The Hanoitimes - Vietnam's richest man said it’s their mission and responsibility to develop a Vietnamese brand with a world-class reputation.

Vietnam, which shares more than a thousand kilometers of border with China where the novel coronavirus broke out, has produced ventilators for richer nations, writing an unlikely story of a little engine could produce machines for a world in a pandemic, VOA has reported.

 Vingroup's workers check ventilators at a Vinfast factory. Photo: Bloomberg

In the time of the coronavirus, for many nations fighting Covid-19, ventilators have highlighted a struggle of life and death and of medical supplies, Vietnam has retooled a smartphone factory to churn out batches of ventilators for export and for donation.

Vingroup, founded by Vietnam’s richest man, Pham Nhat Vuong, had never dabbled in medical devices before the pandemic, but now makes ventilators at a cost of US$7,000 a piece, which is 30% less than the price of the Medtronic model on which they’re based, according to Bloomberg.

Reaching out to the world

Robotic arms at work at the VinFast factory in Haiphong. Photo: Bloomberg 

Billionaire Pham Nhat Vuong wants to put his company and his country on the global stage.

While other nations scramble to save patients and supply hospitals, Vietnam has the bandwidth to shift focus to making those supplies, in part, because it tackled the coronavirus early, resulting in 446 cases and zero deaths so far.

Conglomerate Vingroup, which went through capital accumulation from real estate developments, announced this month that its first batch of ventilators have rolled off the factory line and been donated several thousands to Russia and Ukraine where Vuong has long-standing business ties, Bloomberg reported.

The company aims to ship another 1,600 machines by the end of August and to produce as many as 55,000 units a month.

The ventilators are based on open-source technology made available through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the company said.

Perhaps no other company is as identified with Vietnam’s national brand as Vingroup. It has worked closely with the government to get its ventilators up to technical standards and approved to be shipped.

 Chairman of Vingroup Pham Nhat Vuong. Photo: Bloomberg

“For the time being, we will focus on producing lots of ventilators and doing it really well,” the 51-year-old billionaire said in an interview with Bloomberg last month. “We want to join hands with the Vietnamese government to solve a part of the pandemic problem.”

Vuong said he wants the company it to keep helping the fast-growing nation reach milestone after milestone. That ranges from Vinfast, the first consumer car produced in and by Vietnam, to ventilators now, a crucial product that has become highly sought after amid the Covid-19 emergency.

Vuong, who first got rich selling packaged noodles in Ukraine, is known for an ambition that dovetails Vietnam’s own. So when the country pushed domestic manufacturers to make more sophisticated products, Vingroup started making cars and smartphones.

Vietnam, one of few countries in the world that have contained the virus and reopened the economy, has sent donations of ventilators, test kits, masks and other aid to recipients from Europe to Laos.

It identified domestic cases of the coronavirus early on, quarantined patients and three layers of their contacts, and restricted movement before the virus could become unmanageable.

“We want the company to tackle things that people think are relatively difficult, things that Vietnamese private enterprises have not done successfully,” he said. “It’s our mission and responsibility to develop a Vietnamese brand with a world-class reputation.”

“There are very few companies in the world like it,” said Mark Mobius, founder of Mobius Capital Partners LLP who been investing in Vietnam for the past decade and has private equity investments in the nation. “The ambition is astounding. It would be a huge win—to make Vietnam a global player.”

Michael Dunne, chief executive officer of automotive consultant ZoZo Go, which focuses on the Asian market, described Vuong “He has sky-high ambitions. But then there are reality checks.”

Vuong says the current price of the ventilators is less than what it costs to make them. “The purpose of ventilator production is completely about contributing to society at this critical time,” he says. It’s also temporary. “We have no plans to expand into this segment.”