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By Phuong Nguyen
HAI PHONG, Vietnam (Reuters) - Vietnam's electric vehicle maker VinFast said on Friday it had shipped its first batch of 999 cars to the United States, completing a five-year bid to develop a car manufacturing center in the Southeast Asian country for markets in North America and Europe.
The company said the first cars should be handed over to customers by the end of December.
VinFast chief executive Le Thi Thu Thuy said some of the VF 8 electric SUVs that will be delivered on Friday would be sent to US car subscription service Autonomy, but the majority would go to retail buyers who ordered the car.
Thuy said VinFast expects to ship a second batch of cars to the United States, its first export market, in January.
VinFast is in the process of building an electric vehicle plant in North Carolina awaiting final regulatory approval from local authorities.
Thuy said the company expects to start production at its North Carolina plant beginning in July 2024 and that electric vehicles built there would be eligible for incentives under the terms of the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law by US President Joe Biden.
The Inflation Reduction Act, as currently written, requires automakers to source 50% of critical minerals used in EV batteries from North America or U.S. allies by 2024, rising to 80% by the end of 2026.
Major automakers have said these targets are unrealistic and it wasn't immediately clear how VinFast would meet sourcing requirements.
"The IRA came as a surprise to all of us, but it doesn't really affect our strategy in the US," Thuy told Reuters. "Once we start manufacturing cars in the US, our customers will be eligible for the tax incentive."
VinFast said last week that Autonomy had ordered 2,500 electric vehicles, the company's largest order to date. According to VinFast, it has a total of almost 65,000 orders worldwide and expects to sell 750,000 electric vehicles annually by 2026.
The North Carolina plant project is months behind schedule according to the company's original goals, and the first shipment of electric vehicles built by VinFast fell short of the original goal of delivering up to 5,000 cars by December that will be in its plant were built in Haiphong.
VinFast officials said the number 999 was chosen for the vehicles delivered in the first batch because it is considered a lucky number in Vietnam.
"There is no happier number than 999," said Thuy. The Panama-chartered transport vessel that shipped the first shipment of VinFast electric vehicles had a capacity of up to 2,000 vehicles, officials said.
Shares of VinFast's listed parent company, Vingroup, which also operates real estate and resort development businesses, rose 5.41% on Friday morning.
(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Writing by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Ed Davies and Edmund Klamann)

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