Everybody loves a list, especially when it’s relatively easy to cobble data together and come up with a fast, colourful graphic highlighting the relevant numbers in an easy-to-digest fashion these days. Utilising Wikipedia for such a task isn’t a terrible idea, but there are flaws to the approach – sometimes the information available in that particular virtual tome isn’t all that accurate, or up to date.

Take the above graphic, which showed up on Facebook feeds yesterday, for example. Posted by website seasia.co, the list is about the vehicle ownership ratio in Southeast Asian countries, depicting the number of registered vehicles per 1,000 population (two- and four-wheelers. In it, Brunei leads the list, with 721 vehicles per 1,000 people, followed by Malaysia (443 per 1,000) and Thailand (225 per 1,000).

Authoritative enough, dressed up with a flashy – if simple – graphic to boot, but the thing that caught my eye was the absence of a source for the data that was cited. The wonderful part of the Internet is that, if you click long enough, you’ll usually find where the numbers are sourced from, provided they’re not made up – in this case, the Wikipedia page for “List of countries by vehicles per capita” provided the necessary.

There’s nothing wrong with the numbers per se (or the placement of the top three, but less so with the rest – more on this later), because what you see in the graphic is numerically correct as per that listed on the page. It is however not reflective of an accurate – or rather, as up-to-date as possible – depiction, more so when the compared data points are not from the same timeframe (2013, 2015, 2018).

Since we’re already on the subject, let’s find out how it shapes up. The ASEAN Statistics Division (ASEANstats) website provides a more accurate reflection of things. In its ASEAN key figures 2018 document, statistics – for 2017 – reveal that Brunei had 971 vehicles per 1,000 population, while Malaysia was close, with 897 vehicles per 1,000 population (yes, we really do love our motorised transport, it seems – as reflected by the numbers, almost nine out of every 10 people have a vehicle of some sort!).

Meanwhile, Thailand had a ratio of 548 vehicles per 1,000. As for Indonesia, it’s actually fourth on the list, with an ownership ratio of 499 vehicles per 1,000 people, significantly higher than the 87 vehicles per 1,000 as listed in the graphic. Singapore, listed fourth in the graphic, is placed sixth in the region – if anything, data shows that the number of registered vehicles in the republic has been dropping from a peak in 2010.

Here’s the list of how the vehicle ownership ratio in the region actually shapes up as of 2017, as reflected from the ASEANstats database:

  • Brunei 971
  • Malaysia 897
  • Thailand 548
  • Indonesia 499
  • Laos 293
  • Singapore 171
  • Myanmar 127
  • Philippines 99
  • Vietnam 31
  • Cambodia 28
  • Other bits of trivia – the region has seen a marked increase in the number of registered vehicles, with over 220 million units across all member countries in 2017, an increase of 167.8% compared to 2005, or around 8.6% per year on average. The countries that see the highest annual increase of vehicles are Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia, the latter growing at a rate of 10.9% per year.

    Within ASEAN, Indonesia has the highest number of registered vehicles, at over 130 million units – or nearly 60% of the ASEAN total – in 2017. Its placing in the vehicle-to-population ratio list is as such due to its large population size.

    Elsewhere, total road length in the region reached nearly 1.8 million km in 2017, up by 48.1% from that which was available in 2006. Indonesia has the longest road length (539,400 km), followed by Vietnam (370,660 km) and then Thailand (284,730 km). Malaysia, meanwhile, had just over 237,000 km of road in 2017. So there you go – if you click long enough, you’ll come up with a list containing data beyond that provided by Wiki.