Motorcycles – Vietnam Trading Up to Cars

Motorcycles in VietnamWe have all seen the images of the streets of Vietnam, packed with scooters and small displacement motorcycles, but those images may be changing. According to a recent article, sales of motorcycles in Vietnam are dropping while sales of cars are on the rise, not really surprising but something to keep in mind for a variety of reasons.

It looks like there is a transportation hierarchy of sorts that seems to transcend national boundaries or cultures. It begins with human feet, then on to domestic animals, then bicycles, upward to scooters and small motorcycles and finally cars. As a country's economy develops and the people get richer, they move up the ladder and it has nothing to do with corporate marketers encouraging anyone to buy what they don't need, it is a simple recognition that people need transportation to move up and as an economy grows they get as much transportation as they can afford. You can carry more and/or move farther as you rise.

Motorcycles are incredibly useful and efficient at a particular stage but once past that point, most people treat them as vehicles used for recreation far more than necessary transportation. Bicycles even more so. They are no less efficient or convenient then they ever were and readers here would say they are a lot more fun, but practicality leads people to make choices based on need first.

If any country was primed for a "let's all share our communal resources" economy, Vietnam would certainly seem to be the one because of the country's firmly entrenched communism of the early '70s, but, instead, as soon as the market began to grow and people were free to choose among a greater number of transportation choices, they didn't clamor for mass transit or communally owned cars parked on the corner for everyone to use, they wanted their own vehicle to use for their own family on their own schedule. Vietnam demonstrates a pretty universal desire to take care of your own family first and do what you can to better your situation.

Motorcycles, as even Vietnam demonstrates, become more fun than purely functional as economies grow and it's why in developed countries motorcycles with huge engines and massive horsepower are just as reasonable as little scooters. It would be nice to see more small displacement motorcycles because they are more affordable for people starting out, they handle extremely well, often far better than bigger bikes and they may completely satisfy the desires of a lot of riders. Others, though, will want more, and since we're now in the realm of recreation instead of necessity, more is just fine.

Whenever some group says we should all walk to work whenever possible or ride bicycles instead of driving cars for the good of all, even if some theory justifies those measures, the promoters of those ideas are trying to force people back down a ladder they would rather climb, fighting human nature, and, from the looks of things, all of those new countries around the world with growing economies keep choosing the opposite of what these advocates prefer. While walking and bicycling may be healthy activities, they're not real solutions to fuel shortages or environmental problems. If a solution requires humans the world over to want less, I have a hunch the "solution" is a non starter.

Motorcycle sales in Vietnam indicate more universal transportation trends. They also remind us that this entire motorcycling industry we all love so much is just another avenue of enjoyment once we're past the transportation necessity stage and debates within it about motorcycles that are better or worse in some way or another are all more a matter of taste than substance. So whether you ride a cruiser or scooter, chopper or sportbike, it's all cool and everybody is welcome here.

Maybe Harley Davidson is on to something with recent moves toward Vietnam. If the country is moving up past the small motorcycles and scooters stage, can a Softail be far behind?

Link: Vietnam trades motorcycles for cars

Related: Harley Davidson in Vietnam

Comments

  1. says

    In some areas extreme density should allow two-wheelers and mini- or micro cars to keep there foothold, if only because of ease of parking
    .
    Some months ago I was weatching coverage of the Pope’s demise/election of his successor in Rome, and saw acouple of minutes of roman traffic behind the announcer. about one in five vehicles was a two-wheeler, mostly scooters and
    small motorctcles. No bicycles, few large tourers,cruiser, sportbikes.

    I think the transportation future looks more like Rome(@20% two-wheelers) than L.A.(@.1/2 to 1% on two wheels) Most developing cities seem to be high density,not low.

    By the way, i live near San Francisco, which is encouraging motorcycle parking
    over car, simply due to lack of space.

  2. says

    I agree with most of your points about the transportation evolution except for :

    “…the promoters of those ideas are trying to force people back down a ladder they would rather climb, fighting human nature…”

    and

    “While walking and bicycling may be healthy activities, they’re not real solutions to fuel shortages or environmental problems. If a solution requires humans the world over to want less, I have a hunch the “solution” is a non starter.”

    Is this solution really asking people to “want less” while they sit in their car in a traffic jam?

    Consider someone who lives within walking or bicycling distance to work in a congested suburb or city…

    Their daily agenda consists of going to work and a nearby gym after work (or bar, cafe, whatever). A rather typical work day with no significant “errands” to run. Why not walk, bicycle or take a bus/train?

    Public transit, bicycling, walk to work, etc. solutions are NOT asking those people to forfeit their cars or motorcycles entirely. There is an abundant amount of freedom available in mass transit, especially during the work days. And, this solution may even have complete strangers talking to one another in a friendly exchange. Imagine that.

    A trip to San Fran, NYC, Chicago, DC, Portland, etc. and most of Europe will prove it.

  3. kneeslider says

    Walking, bicycling or mass transit are great if that’s what you prefer, and often make a lot of sense such as in the instances you cite, problems arise when we “encourage” everyone else to make the same choice through the use of high tolls or taxes or other incentives and disincentives, forcing others to do one thing when they would prefer something else. As long as the choice is unforced, no problem.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the Vietnamese transition is that given the opportunity, people the world over make many of the same transportation choices the U.S. has made and been criticized for. You can see it in China, too, with the luxury car market expanding rapidly. The U.S. isn’t unique in our desire for wanting personal vehicles at our disposal rather than being dependent on mass transit and that will become more apparent as time goes on and more countries advance.

  4. todd says

    I have a hunch that when Vietnam changes over to cars they’ll all change right back over to bikes again.
    If you look at a tylical vietnamese photo and replaced every person on a scooter with a car, replace people on bicycles with people with scooters, and replace pedestrians with people on bicycles you will no longer see any space around each person. They’ll remember back to how easy it was to thread around the streets on a bike and abandon their cars. The only reason why the US has so many cars is not because we are more affluent, it’s because we have more space.
    In the major US cities noted in previous posts a majority of the people working in them live pretty far away (median price for a home within half an hour from the city is around $800,000). Our public transportation systems are not efficient or convienient enough that people would want to begin utilizing them. In the case of San Fran where I’m near, it costs much more to ride public transportation than to drive. Commuting an hour or so to the city is more enjoyable sitting in a car (or lane splitting) than spending as much or more time standing in an overcrowded BART car and then waiting for a bus transfer – for more money. Not many people can afford to live close enough to work to walk or ride a bicycle.

    As for me, I love commuting every day on my motorcycle, saving time and saving money and being more refreshed when I arrive. I really don’t understand why more people don’t do it.

    -todd

  5. Stacey says

    I agree with todd. I live relatively close to work, but I commute by motorcycle rather than public transportation, mostly because buses are slow and I like the ability to make side trips on a whim.
    However, despite whatever choice are being made in China and Vietnam, the planet cannot sustain EVERYONE owning a car. I think one should make choices based on what’s best for them, but I got rid of my cage as soon as I was able. I wouldn’t presume that everyone follow my example, but I do believe at some point we will be forced to reexamine what we are doing…and by then our options will be fewer.

  6. GenWaylaid says

    Here’s an unsettling thought: imagine a world of 2056 where every adult has a car. The U.N. estimates about 11 billion people, close to 9 billion of them adults. If an average American parking space is about 8 feet by 30 feet (including some of the aisle), then a parking lot for 9 billion cars would cover about 77,500 square miles, or 200,000 square kilometers. That’s almost the size of England and Scotland combined! Given that everyone will also need to park at work, at the store, and will need roads to connect all that, we’re talking about a total paved area roughly the size of continental Scandinavia. Even spread over the planet, that’s still 0.5 to 0.7 percent of the total land area.

    Makes motorcycle parking look pretty good, doesn’t it?
    Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to get some tasty Soylent Green.

  7. says

    Many communities have reached or will reach a point where everyone’s choice of driving solo is not as good of a choice. Congestion will drive this choice further away until viable alternatives are implemented.

    If toll funds are put towards a viable alternative that will, upon its completion, sustain itself and also be effective enough to restore the option of driving solo, then everyone should be expected to pay for the alternative to be built.

    The US deserves criticism in the last 10-15 years for relying heavily on the SUV market without significant research and development into more fuel efficient autos.

    True, the US is not unique in a desire for wanting personal vehicles….Italians, British, & Germans all have unique passions for personal transport. However, they also excel at effective mass transit, which in turn, allows them to enjoy their personal autos that much more because more people are off the road.

  8. chris says

    these are all great points, but what about those of us who live in areas with nasty weather for part of the year? today it was a balmy 20 degrees at it’s warmest. yipee. not even fun in a car. my wife and i recently discussed getting a motorcycle for my own sole transportation while she would use the car we already have. it only took about 30 seconds for me to realize winter would make this impossible. as soon as we both needed motorized transportation on the same day – either i would be freezing, or we’d have a logistical problem. i would love to ride to work every day, but i need a car as well. sure, most of us probably have both, but in my situation – it requires TWO cars to be practical year round AND get the enjoyment of riding for the better part of the year. i do have a child, so that complicates things. but i suspect that a pretty good number of other people with motorcycles have that problem too. so here i am – faced with the prospect of 2 cars and 1 bike, or 2 cars and NO bike. environmentaly speaking it’s a no brainer – 2 effecient cars. in an emotional sense – i get all three. i’m with hoyt – it’s not the number of cars – it’s their size and ineffeciency.

  9. says

    minor point of clarification….I think all 3 need to be considered:

    number of cars but at certain times of the day/week
    efficiency
    size

  10. chris says

    ah, yes, of course. good point. certain areas of Europe have and interesting take on this. except it has to do with sections of the city as opposed to time of day. you have to pay a toll to access certain areas. but we’re not talking about a highway, more like a few city blocks. this encourages people not to drive/park in areas where congestion is a problem unless they actually NEED to. and as a bonus – if you’ve got a motorcycle or a very tiny car (Smart, MINI, etc.) you get to drive/park for free. a little draconian i guess, but something needs to be done. and this is the best idea i’ve heard of so far.