The Honda Revolution

One of the first, most significant impressions Vietnam makes on a first time visitor is the traffic.  Like Cairo, Beijing and other places, it is hectic and apparently there are things like stop signs, one way streets and traffic lights- all of which appear to be optional in Vietnam.  Yet with all the chaos, crossing the street is not that bad.  Unlike Cairo where the pedestrian takes the risk and may not make it across the street, in Hanoi the rule is that the motorists move around the pedestrian.  So if you want to cross the street, first commit to it- those who get hit are those who stop in the street.   Second, once you make the commitment, you have to trust the drivers who are calculating their movement based on you keeping the commitment!!


One of the main reasons for all that traffic is a revolution that happened in the mid 1990s, several years after Doi moi- reforms first went into effect in 1986. Honda came to Vietnam, made a commitment to the choice by the government to initiate market reforms and Honda made a major investment in Vietnam.  What Honda decided to do was make the motorbike (in America we would call them scooters) affordable for the majority of Vietnamese workers.  the scooters were sold on 20 year notes so that the bikes cost roughly 10 USD/year for  20 years.  So rather than paying 2500 all at once, which was about a years wages, someone could buy that scooter on payments and now have the mobility to make more money.  Walk through Hanoi and you see motorbikes used to haul goods to market, take family members to jobs, doctors or just to the park.  The response was immediate and profound not only did Honda corner the market, they sparked the economic vitality of the country.  Mobility is revolutionary, just as the Model A and Model  were for the US in the early 20th century, so the motorbike has been for Vietnam since the 80s.  Not only did the motorbike revolution give people an affordable mode of transportation so people could work at the growing number of factories, the secondary market and parts/repairs industry is huge with a motorbike cleaning/repair shop on almost every street.


So when you come to Hanoi you will see Uncle Ho on buildings, and a vast, fast-paced urban street market scene and factories marking the fast growing economy, but it is the motorbike, everywhere and ever present, that holds up Vietnam.



2 Responses to “The Honda Revolution”

  1. 1 Martin Tracey
    June 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    How interesting!

    It’s a pity that in other parts of the world, whether people routinely travel short distances in good weather as the sole passengers in large cars, that more motorbikes are not in use. Then again, in some places, this might require some to own motorbikes in addition to cars (for use in inclement whether or when traveling with multiple passengers). If that were so, any pro-environmental benefit would be offset, of course, by the costs of producing and maintaining the bikes …

  2. 2 butterflydoc
    June 17, 2013 at 1:43 am

    I’d be interested to see pictures of how these are used for hauling here — I took lots of pictures of “work bikes” in China. The most interesting one I saw (but was not able to photograph) was someone who had concrete on a trailer (like, a small mixer!).

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