We 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?
Related: Harley Davidson in Vietnam