Mekong Automtive - The New Standard For Budget Automobiles

#Driving Vietnam™

Mekong Automotive (‘Mekong’ for short) is a budget automobile maker founded in 2008 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vitenam as one of the country’s first car makers. Created as a joint venture between the Vietnamese government and Erin, the company was setup to allow the Vietnamese people buy cars without having to pay for the very high import taxes placed on non-nationally built vehicles.

Named after the South-East Asian river, the company makes cheap vehicles for markets within the ASEAN region, primarily Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. The need for cheap cars here is growing considerably as regular scooters and motorbikes become too small and slow to be able to meet the needs of a growing economy.

At first, the company manufactured badge engineered versions of the Erin Visto and Erin Merna, but is now launching its first ever own-designed cars in 2017. Mekong also has ambitions to expand into markets across Eastern Asia.

Mekong Merna - 2008 to 2017

Mekong Visto - 2008 to 2017

Mekong Dang-Yeu - Since Q3 2017

Mekong Vui-Ve - Since Q3 2017

Cát Lái Assembly Plant and Production Centre - Cát Lái, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Primary factory and assembly line for the company, with its own private docks at the Cát Lái Port.

Mekong Automotive World Headquarters - Bến Nghé, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Head offices for the company, based in a stunning skyscraper.

The idea of part-nationally owned car company had been discussed by the Vietnamese government for some time before Mekong’s founding, but it was always deemed unnecessary and pushed back. However, during the 1990s and 2000s, car purchasing began to increase year on year, despite the high taxes on imported vehicles, and soon enough there was a demand for cheap vehicles that wasn’t being met.

While motorbikes were and still are the lifeblood of private transport in Vietnam, their slow speed and very limited transport capability are not good enough for people who might want to run a small business, have a family to carry around or want to travel the long distances between the north and south of the country.

In the cities, cars became popular as status symbols with the emerging middle class, but out in more rural areas, cars were and still are far less prevalent. One of the main aims for any nationally owned car company was to deal with this issue.

Enter British car maker Erin, who were looking for a new international venture. Having now established themselves well in North America, Erin looked to Asia as a potential place to expand to. However, being a medium sized car company, they lacked the money to fund any kind of establishment in these markets, and would be facing very stiff competition from well established Japanese, Korean and Anikatian companies.

News of discussions in the Vietnamese government about providing cheap cars to the masses reached Erin in 2006 and almost immediately discussions began about coming up with some kind of partnership. They contacted the relative government officials in Vietnam and quickly got down to business. By the end of the year, the two groups had forged a partnership called the Vietnam New Car Program (VNCP).

The VNCP detailed plans for a new factory to be built by the government to build cars somewhere within the Ho Chi Minh City area. The cars themselves would as first be badge modified versions of the upcoming Erin Merna Mk 7 and Erin Visto Mk 4, which Erin licensed out for 10 years. At the end of this period, these cars would then be replaced by custom-designed vehicles based on Erin platform’s that would use licensed Erin engines.

In Summer 2008, Mekong Automotive was formally established and begun producing two cars, the Mekong Visto and Mekong Merna. While from the outside the cars were visually only slightly different to their Erin counterparts, the interior’s were much cheaper and simpler to save on costs. Various other cost-saving initiatives allowed these cars to sell for little over 60% of their price in the UK.

The project was a major success, with almost 10,000 orders in the first year alone, which accounted for around 10% of all new cars bought in Vietnam. In the coming years, deals were agreed with the Asean to start selling the cars in other countries, greatly increasing the factory’s output and growing the company significantly.

In 2014, the company announced that replacements for their current vehicles were in development, and these are set to launch this year. Mekong Automotive now represents almost 18% of all cars sold in Vietnam and are now the biggest car company in Mainland South East Asia.


#Regarding the Name
Some of you may be aware that “Mekong Auto” is actually already a car assembler in Vietnam, where they build licensed versions of Fiat and Pyeonghwa vehicles. I only found out about this while doing research for the back story of the company, but already really liked the name and so stuck with it.

My version of the company only shares its name and has a similar story in some aspects. The real Mekong Auto has been established for some time and only assembles cars for Fiat and Pyeonghwa as oppose to badging these cars as its own like with this version.

For these reasons, I hope everyone can understand that this is not meant to be an imitation or copy of Mekong Auto.


this is a fascinating premise, but also one with a rationale that may elude most of us (myself included) who have at most a cursory knowledge of traffic needs in urban Vietnam (epitomised by Saigon).

I mean, Saigon in 2000:

Hanoi in 2017:

derp, I somehow managed to lose my other picture and paste the same one twice

(incidentally, both photos were taken from news articles in which the Government attempted to find a solution to reduce traffic incidents…)

So my question is, where exactly would the demand for automobiles over scooters be? Let us not forget that this:

(a.k.a. “small business”) is, AFAIK, pretty normal, as is this:

i.e. standard family transport, not dissimilar to parts of India, Thailand, and, IIRC what koolkei said, Indonesia, to name a few.

Seems that to fully realise the vision, Erin’s work would also need to involve a lot of extra-urban infrastructure building!


Indonesia is still motorcycle reliant as well but there’s always a market for a car, especially a cheap one.

@strop Well, as you rightly point out, the traffic problems are catastrophic to say the least. I can safely say that Erin are only looking for extra profit from the licensing deals and are leaving the sorting of Vietnam’s infrastructure to the government :laughing:

With the family and business things, it’s more to do with having a vehicle that has more ‘fixed’ space where you don’t need to tie everything onto the back (not family members, obviously). And there’d definitely be some push from the government to promote safety here too.

And where that actual demand is, I don’t know truth be told. While I could go out on a limb and say. “aha, but this is for rural Vietnam!”, that’s a dreadful argument as most of the buyers are going to be in urban areas anyway. But as @Deskyx points out, cheap cars are (usually) a plus, and with any luck the cheapness will live up to expectations when I release full details soon.

I guess the way I’m looking at this is as a way of dealing with the car tax problem and blissfully ignoring the larger issues on Vietnam’s roads. Or something like that.

Slightly odd analogy to be drawing here, but I’m reminded of a less recent strip from gaming webcomic Penny Arcade:

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I have high hopes for this budget brand… If they can establish a presence in developing markets there is no reason they could, at least theoretically, do the same in wealthier countries as well!

@strop! Tut tut, are you suggesting that this car company has only been setup to make money? :wink:

@abg7 It could be on the cars, if they are received well at Antiyita.

trickle down economics at its finest, my good sir!


This reminds me of my company’s attempt to launch into Japan, may you not have the legal troubles mine did.


Thanks for the words of confidence :laughing:

#Dang-Yeu and Vui-Ve
Having been fairly well received at Anitiyita 2017, Mekong are now pressing ahead with the launch of their two first cars.

The Dang-Yeu, an ultra-cheap compact, is based off of the Merna-14 platform, meaning it shares a lot of its internals with the Merna Mk 8. The body is a more conventional sedan shape, the suspension is much cheaper and simpler and the transmission has also been replaced with a cheaper alternative. Both cars have the same wheelbase though.

The Vui-Ve is based off of the Bino platform, but it noticeably taller and slightly longer than the city car it’s based on. While it certainly won’t win any awards for how it drives, it is very practical and easy to use.

Both cars then use license-built Pureon engines, namely the 1.4 Di, 1.2 TDi and 1.0 TDi variants.

Aside from that, there really isn’t much else on these cars; they’re very simple, with low cost parts and plenty of cost saving measures. However, Erin’s engineering advisers have ensured that the quality standards meet their regulations, meaning that these cars should be trusty and reliable.

Mekong Automotive are proud to introduce the company’s first ever self-designed cars, the Dang-Yeu and Vui-Ve! With these two cars, we set out to prove that ultra cheap driving needn’t be dull, dangerous or undiginified.

Welcome to the new standard for budget cars.

#2017 Mekong Dang-Yeu
Translation: “Lovely”

Dang-Yeu packs all the car you’ll ever need into a neat, cheap package. 5 seats, a big boot and plenty of space inside means it provides all the practicality you’d expect of a vehicle like this, yet it’s also very efficient and reliable, meaning you never need worry about cost of ownership.

Tough enough to take on rougher roads yet also stylish enough to suit an urban backdrop, the Dang-Yeu is well suited to the South East Asian car environment. It also has ample performance for use on motorways, meaning long distance trips can easily be made.

As standard, all trims come with a 6 speed manual gearbox, 16" steel rims, all round disc brakes, power steering and ABS.

LIVE Trim - from $11440
Powered by Pureon 1.2l TDi (85 hp), 0-60: 12.9s
Basic radio/CD player, heater, cloth seats, some plastic body panels

BURST Trim - from $12495
Powered by Pureon 1.4l Di (113 hp), 0-60: 10.3s
Basic radio/CD player with aux input and two extra speakers, heater with basic aircon features, cloth seats with more material choice

#2017 Mekong Vui-Ve
Translation: “Happy”

The Vui-Ve is the perfect choice for the first time car owner. Small yet spacious, good boot space and superb all-round visibility, it’s easy to drive and fun to own. There’s seating for four inside, with extra head room to ensure all passengers are comfortable. Plus, combined with the fold flat seats and low boot lip, this allows for large items to be transported easily.

Being a small car, the Vui-Ve is very well suited for city driving. It can be parked in even the tiniest of spaces, and is easy to maneuver. It also makes it light, meaning it’s incredibly efficient, which will reassure the money-conscious buyer.

As standard, all trims comes with a 5 speed manual gearbox, 14" steel rims, front disc brakes, power steering and ABS.

LIVE Trim - from $8034
Powered by Pureon 1.0l TDi (68 hp), 0-60: 15.5s
Basic radio/CD player, heater, cloth seats, plastic body panels

BURST Trim - from $9996
Powered by Pureon 1.2l TDi (85 hp), 0-60: 11.9s
Basic radio/CD player with aux input and two extra speakers, heater, cloth seats, plastic body panels

The Dang-Yeu and Vui-Ve are set to go on sale in Q3 of 2017 in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, before arriving in Thailand and Myanmar in Q4 of 2017. The company intends to extend to Anikatia, Korea and Indonesia in 2018.


Look, dang you!