The most common and well-documented street view of urban Vietnam is that of a crowded crossroad with tons of motorbikes. The overwhelming number of motorbikes in the country can be both a source of annoyance and excitement. The motorbike has been a staple of Vietnam as well as that of other Asian developing countries, such as Thailand or Indonesia. Have you ever wondered how many motorbikes there really are in Vietnam, or how they intertwine with her economic development?
The most recent number I could find was 18.6 million motorbikes in 2006. The population back then was about 84.1 million; this translates to one motorbike for every 4.5 people. Almost every family owned a motorbike back then. From 1995 to 2006, the average growth rate of registered motorbikes was 16.4%. Increase in sales of motorbikes also had a direct relationship with GDP growth. Based on the data from 2000 to 2006, every 1% growth in GDP meant another 1.94 million motorbikes added to the streets. This relationship is quite worrisome considering the fast growth rate of Vietnam and the underdeveloped transport infrastructure. The overwhelming number of motorbikes adds to traffic problems. Yet, its ubiquity is almost a coping mechanism to the relative lack of public transportation and highways more suitable for cars.
In the transition from an underdeveloped to a fast-developing country, the motorbike certainly has added its value to economic development. It is a fast and convenient way to get to places in the city. In addition, the widespread adoption of the motorbike, especially after a few budget models such as the Honda Wave Alpha were introduced, allows travel and commute over longer distances for the mass public. This added to the expansion of cities, eased transportation of goods, and provided transport connection from the rural and suburban areas to the city centers. Compared to the automobile, motorbikes are a lot easier and cleaner to operate. Unlike cars, most motorbikes in Vietnam nowadays are produced inside the country. The localization rate of components is very high, from 60% to 90%. This is a large economic boost to the local supporting industries and the human resource market.
The common use of the motorbike also created a street culture and support for different business activities. Many street side restaurants and food stands open mainly to cater to motorbikers. The incessant waves of motorbike traffic give rise to multiple forms of street advertisement and promotion, from handing out leaflets at stop signs to holding loud raffles at store fronts.
As the motorbike is so important in everyday life, it is no surprise that it has gained appropriate cultural standing. A few classic motorbikes such as the Vespa or the Honda ’67 have devoted followers, hobby clubs, and dedicated exhibitions. Multiple books, movies, and popular songs employ the motorbike as the main theme. In Vietnam, the motorbike has become so entrenched in everyday life that it is hard to imagine life and business otherwise.
Do you think motorbikes should be encouraged or limited in developing countries such as Vietnam? How do you see the transport mix 10 years from now?
Source: Vietnam Ministry of Industry – Institute for Industry Policy and Strategy.