Sept. 20 - The motorcycle's star keeps rising in Indonesia, as steady economic growth and traffic chaos drive demand for the humble two-wheeler. Arnold Gay reports.
PT Astra Honda churned out over 3.5 million of these motorcycles in Indonesia last year. But the top motorbike maker says it still can't keep up with demand. With traffic creeping along at snail's pace during rush hour, and a haphazard public transport system, Jakarta residents have turned to motorcycles to get around. Motorcycle taxi driver, Fauzi, says two-wheelers are now within the reach of most people. (SOUNDBITE) (Bahasa Indonesia) MOTORCYCLE TAXI OR GOJEK DRIVER, FAUZI, SAYING: "It is very easy to get a motorcycle now. The price is getting cheaper, we can even get in without putting a down payment." But while fierce competition between rivals Honda and Yamaha has helped drive down prices of these vehicles, motorcycle taxi company owner Nadiem Makarim says the city's notorious traffic jams are the real reason why demand is surging. (SOUNDBITE) (English) OWNER OF MOTORCYCLE TAXI COMPANY, "GOJEK", NADIEM MAKARIM, SAYING: "The problem of congestion can only be solved by motor transport that can cut through it, and motorcycles are the only one. In addition to that, it's an informal industry and one of the biggest. More people take motorcycle taxis in Jakarta than taxis." An estimated 23,000 of these so-called Gojeks ply the capital, offering customers like Yeni Yustiana a fast and affordable option to beat jams that can bring traffic to a virtual standstill. (SOUNDBITE) (Bahasa Indonesia) MOTORCYCLE TAXI CUSTOMER, YENI YUSTIANA, SAYING: "I take the motorbike taxi when I need to reach my destination quicker. Moreover, the price is reasonable." Many Gojek companies also deliver shopping and groceries. Steady economic expansion, rising income, and the near-complete lack of a public transport system have led to a 40 percent jump in motorcycle sales in the past five years. 7.4 million were sold last year (2010), making Indonesia the world's third-biggest two-wheeler market. Astra Honda president Yusuke Hori expects demand to stay strong, and is forecasting 20 percent jump in 2011 sales. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) PRESIDENT DIRECTOR OF ASTRA HONDA MOTOR, YUSUKE HORI, SAYING: "From January to August of this year, the total motorcycle market grew nine percent from the year earlier. Honda's sales of motorcycles grew 19 percent to 2.8 million, and for the full 2011, we are forecasting sales of 4.3 million motorcycles for us." All this will come at a cost - the Jakarta Transportation Council estimates that jams cost around $1.5 billion in lost economic activity each year, and could rise to over $7 billion by 2020. Arnold Gay, Reuters.