28 May 2004

Number Plate Madness - updated

Dubai police auctions number plates, or how to maintain a strange hobby. And more information on Dubai number plates than you really need.

The latest money-spinning discovery for the municipality is the sale of personalised number plates. There are limited options for personalisation, since Dubai plates are just a letter for the year of registration followed by a row of one to five digits. We heard that you can recognise important locals by low numbers (single or double digits) and have seen Sheik Mohammed's car, which sports the number '1'. Some of Dubai's most creative drivers drive cars with low numbers...

But the whole arrangement of car registration is in flux right now with an explosion of new cars being registered. Vehicle registration is expected to rise from 400000 now to one million by 2020. Dubai has been through four different schemes in the last four years, including one of differently coloured backgrounds and numbers, which was abandoned because colours faded too quickly in the hot weather. A scheme that included a picture of the Burj Al Arab was given up because the remaining space left was too small to allow deciphering of the actual numbers. The new scheme should be able to provide plates for registration for the next 30 years.

Two weeks ago new plates starting with the letter 'E' were auctioned. Unbelievably a single number (E33) went for Dh 1.14m (£130k)! The man who bought the plate also bought another 4 plates for an additional Dh 1.07m. Apparently the collection of number plates is his hobby. He told Gulf News that he was looking for a plate for either his BMW X5 or his Porsche. When asked what cars the other plate were to grace, he said that he did not have that many cars: "I will have to buy some more".

A total of 36 plates brought a profit of Dh 10m for Dubai police.


A few days later the police department of Ras al Khaimah (a tiny Emirate on the Indian Ocean coast in the North-East of Dubai) ran a similar auction. The plates on sale, though from RAK, were more desirable, as they included single digits from 1 to 9 as well as double digits 11, 22, 33, etc, to 99. Plate number '1' went for the incredible amount of Dh 8m, the highest price ever paid for a number plate in the world. More interestingly, the second most expensive plate, number '2', was sold to the Chief of RAK Police, Brigadier General Sheikh Talib bin Saqr Al Qasimi. The Director General of the RAK Economic Department later warned that people shouldn't take out loans to purchase plate numbers just as status symbols or as a hobby. Some hobby...

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