Why Do Many People in Taiwan and Southeast Asia Use Motorbikes Instead of Cars?

If you’ve ever been to Southeast Asia, you’ve seen it firsthand: motorbikes, thousands of them weaving in and out of traffic in the busiest city centers or trudging through the hilly countryside with food, firewood, or other goods strapped to the back.

Cars are there, of course, but far less prevalent than motorbikes. Of the top 15 countries in the world according to motorbike use over half are in Asia, with the top 5 are mostly in Southeast Asia: Thailand (87% of households), Vietnam (86%), Indonesia (85%), Malaysia (83%) and China (60%).*

But why do many people in Taiwan and Southeast Asia Use Motorbikes Instead of Cars? Here’s what you need to know.

Motorbike Use in Taiwan and Southeast Asia

Taiwan has been found to have the highest density of motorbikes and scooters in the world compared to the population. There are about 14 million motorbikes in the country of about 23 million, according to Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration.**

The numbers are similarly large throughout Southeast Asia. There are 45 million bikes in Vietnam and 15 million in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta alone (with 80 million throughout the country). Malaysia has a population of 32 million — and 13 motorbikes.

So why are motorbikes often more popular than cars in this area of the world? For one they are generally far more affordable than cars — usually a third of the cost. For example, in Thailand, it’s estimated that the cost per kilometer of owning a car is nearly 3 Thai baht compared to 1 THB per kilometer cost for a motorbike.³

Many motorbikes cost $1,500 or so in Southeast Asia new and $500 or less used.

Motorbikes are overall more convenient than cars throughout Southeast Asia. They can help people navigate easier through the crowded streets of busy cities but also traverse different forms of geography better. With space limited in many large Southeast Asian cities, motorbikes can be easily parked on sidewalks.

Another big benefit is to the environment. Motorbikes leave far less of an environmental impact than cars, especially in greenhouse gas emissions. That makes them very appealing to countries coping with choking smog and acid rain.

In some countries, motorbike owners do not have to pay congestion or toll charges, as well.

Motorbikes are often used in Taiwan and Southeast Asia by the entire family, thus increasing their appeal. They can be used for everything from daily commutes and drop-offs to school to picking up groceries and transporting goods for businesses.

They are easy to use, far cheaper to maintain, can be used as taxis for locals and tourists, and are far more utilitarian than cars overall.

Top 15 Ranking: Households That Own a Motorcycle

Far more people in Taiwan and Southeast Asia use motorbikes instead of cars.

Data from worldatlas.com²

The Bottom Line

Just as cars continue to dominate Western countries and their culture, motorbikes have taken hold in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, you’ll find a sea of motorbikes in the street, with cars few and far between. Because of their ease of use, comparative affordability, and more, that won’t change anytime soon.