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The new Vietnamese automobile company VinFast made its debut at the Paris Auto show this week. British soccer star David Beckham and Miss Vietnam, Trần Tiểu Vy, presented two Vinfast models to the crowd.

Vinfast is Vietnam’s first major car manufacturer. It has existed for only about a year. And the country hopes that the automobile industry will power economic growth, just as it did for Japan and South Korea.

VinFast is part of Vietnam’s largest company, Vingroup. It has a budget of $3.5 billion and plans to have VinFast cars on the streets by next August.

Shaun Calvert, is a vice president of VinFast. He asked, “Where else in the world can you do this with this sort of speed?”

Calvert spoke during a tour of the huge factory complex in the northern Vietnamese port town of Haiphong.

The manufacturer will have the capacity to produce 250,000 cars yearly in the next five years or so. That is close to the number of cars sold in Vietnam last year, based on information from the Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (VAMA).

Most cars sold in Vietnam are foreign products put together in the country. But a series of free trade agreements has reduced import duties and are opening up the market.

Beyond Vietnam’s market, VinFast leader Jim Deluca said, “We’re looking to expand both within ASEAN and outside.”

Importing expertise

VinFast has imported foreign expertise to start the project.

Deluca, Calvert and three other members of its leadership team were once with American carmaker, General Motors. In June, GM agreed to give full ownership of its Hanoi factory to VinFast for it to produce small cars under a GM international license from 2019.

But, even with all the support, a move into the highly competitive automobile industry carries major risks.

Local auto assembly companies have tried - and failed - in Vietnam to sell domestic models. Regionally, companies such as Malaysia’s Proton or Australia’s Holden have struggled to win interest in their cars outside their home countries.

Bui Ngoc Huyen is chairman of Vinaxuki. That company tried unsuccessfully to establish a domestic automaker. Bui said Vingroup’s wealth should provide a better chance for success. But he warned, building a brand would take time.

“It will take several years for a new carmaker to fine tune its products” and win the trust of the buying public, he said.

Jim Deluca said VinFast’s early models would be “very affordable” to interest local buyers, but did not offer any further details on price. Deluca said VinFast believes national pride will bring in buyers.

“What we’re doing here is something special for the men and women of Vietnam,” he said.

Vingroup already leads the real estate market in Vietnam with Vinhomes. It also has entered the healthcare market with Vinmec, the food store business with Vinmart, and the tourism industry with Vinpearl resorts.

Deluca said, “There’s probably 4 million customers today who are associated with Vingroup in one way or another so it’s a huge brand….”

I’m Caty Weaver.



The release of this new strategy coincides with the first international World Pneumonia Day. Pneumonia is the world's leading cause of death among children. It kills nearly two million children under age five every year.

U.N. agencies say pneumonia is responsible for one in four child deaths, more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Every 15 seconds a child dies of pneumonia. More than 98 percent of these deaths occur in 68 developing countries.

The World Health Organization and the UN Children's Fund say they know how to prevent these deaths. The tools are available. They just have to be implemented.

The two agencies are proposing a three-pronged Global Action Plan. This involves strategies for protecting, preventing and treating children who become ill with pneumonia.

In the area of protection, UNICEF Senior Health Advisor, Anne Golaz, says the promotion of adequate nutrition, particularly breast feeding, is key to improving the child's natural defenses.

"Under nourished children and those not exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of life are at high risk of developing pneumonia and other disease as well," she said. "Breastfeeding supports the infant's immune system. So, intervention of promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life-no solid food, no other liquid could result in up to 23 percent reduction in pneumonia. Just this intervention."

Shamim Qazi is a pneumonia expert at the WHO Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development. In the realm of prevention, he says vaccination is the most important intervention against diseases that cause pneumonia, such as whooping cough and measles.

"After that, if the child does get pneumonia, we know we can treat these children with very inexpensive antibiotics and methodologies wherever it is needed at community level, at health facility level, at hospital level depending upon the severity of the disease," said Qazi. "At present these are not really implemented in that manner in many countries."

Dr. Qazi says the Global Action Plan aims to expand coverage to 90 percent of all relevant vaccines.

The UN health agencies say it could cost about $39 billion over the next six years to scale up the recommended measures in the 68 high-risk developing countries.

The agencies say though this may sound like a lot, it really is not, considering that $39 billion will cut child pneumonia deaths by 65 percent by the year 2015.

Lisa Schlein - Geneva

Composed & Edited by Lê Quốc An
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