Want to own a special number plate? It's big business
Number plates are big business and a vanity purchase for those who have the cash to spare and then some more.
Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority's (RTA) Licensing Agency has been conducting auctions of special number plates in the past decade. In fact, the RTA collected a staggering Dh141.158m in its last three public biddings alone.
Owning a special plate number for ordinary motorists is a dream and bidding for a vanity plate that costs multi-million dirhams is unimaginable for most of us. But a lucky few have the means and luck to snatch the prized catch.
The most expensive number plate till date is still the No 1 plate in Abu Dhabi, purchased by prominent Emirati businessman Saeed Abdul Ghafar Al Khouri, for a record-breaking Dh52.2m in 2008, at an auction at the Emirates Palace. Prior to that, the record was held by Talal Ali Mohammad Khouri who bought No 5 for Dh25.2m in 2007.
In October last year, Indian businessman and property developer Balwinder Sahni fought tooth and nail to outspend other bidders to grab RTA's single digit plate D5, for a whopping Dh33m. While in Sharjah, the most expensive vehicle licence is the No 1 plate, bagged by Emirati businessman Arif Al Zarouni for Dh18 million.
Staggering though the price tags may be, buyers of vanity plates have a common denominator in making such expensive and mind-boggling purchases: "Passion and money spent for a greater cause."
Sultan Al Marzouqi, director of Vehicle Licensing at RTA, put it succinctly: "Auctions help generate revenue for RTA's never ending infrastructure projects."
He also told Khaleej Times: "Lots of people buy those numbers for trading or investment purposes, or they are regarded as a statement of individuality - of being unique and special."
Behind the plate auction
|Timeline of the distinct licence plate auctions
MARCH 11, 2017
RTA's 94th Open Auction for Distinctive Licensing Plates fetched Dh32.478 million, according to Ahmed Bahrozyan, CEO of RTA Licensing Agency. Plate Z 777 topped the sale with Dh3.5 million, followed by O 18 (Dh3.08 million) and U 66, which was sold Dh3 million. Plate numbers M 29 and R 786 were disposed for Dh1.82 million and Dh1 million respectively
Dec 17, 2016
The 93rd number plates auction, held at Emirates Towers, collected Dh42 million in revenues, despite the non-sale of the single-digit fancy plate number Q2, which had a starting bid of Dh33 million. Plate I 10 was the topper seller in the double-digit code, sold at Dh6.7 million, followed by Q 12 bought for Dhs5 million and C 55, which made Dh4 million. In the three-digit category, C 888 fetched Dh1.81 million, followed by M 222 at Dh1.44 million while I 1000 was the bestseller in the four-digit plates after fetching Dh1.1 million and the five-digit plates L 11111 and E 55555 yielded Dh1.98 million and Dh1.03 million respectively. A lucky bidder was awarded the complimentary plate P 479 through a draw.
October 8, 2016
The RTA set a new record in number plate auctions in Dubai after the final gavel for the 92nd auction went down and the total sales reached a whopping Dh66.68 million at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Indian businessman Balwinder Sahni went home with the night's prized catch, single-digit vanity plate D5, for a cool Dh33 million. The second biggest grossing number plate was Q77, bought by an Emirati bidder for Dh4.52 million while P27 and O111 were sold for Dh2.14 million and Dh1.98 million respectively.The four number plates - D5, Q77, P27, O111 - almost reached a staggering Dh42 million.
Emirati businessman Arif Ahmed Al Zarouni shelled out Dh18m to grab the No 1 plate at the Emirates Auction in Sharjah.
After shelling out Dh52.2m, prominent Emirati businessman Saeed Abdul Ghafar Al Khouri set the world record for the most expensive car plate with the purchase of '1' plate in Abu Dhabi. The car license plate had nothing but the number '1' on it.He broke the previous record previously held by Talal Ali Mohammad Khouri who bought No 5 for Dh25.2m.Few months back, in November 2007, Al Khouri paid Dh8 million to get No 11 in an auction held by Abu Dhabi Police.
RTA introduced e-auction
The RTA started its hall auction
The RTA conducted its first hall auction in 2007 and the e-auction in 2010. The live auction takes places every alternate month and the online plate auctions are also held bi-monthly.
The Dubai government authority also sells distinguished number plates for fixed prices but the auctions help set the price higher. The bidding war simply triggers strong competition among special number plate enthusiasts.
"During the hall auctions, competition rises between the bidders for the most unique plate numbers; therefore, demand for those numbers jack up the prices," Al Marzouqi said.
The RTA decides the numbers to be rolled out, depending on customers' requirements and preferences, he added. The most popular numbers are usually 786, 911, 458, and four-digit numbers, mostly year-based ones like 2020, currently popular because of the upcoming Expo 2020.
Buyers also have a variety of reasons to go for a special number plate. Some cite lucky numbers - like Sahni who is very partial to 9 (he bought D5 because D+5 adds up to 9). He also spent Dh25m to grab the O9 plate in a 2015 auction.
So far, he has collected around 15 vanity plates - worth about Dh100m in total - and his passion for collecting special numbers is only growing.
Investment on plates
Spending money on fancy number plates is also a good investment, said an Emirati entrepreneur who spent over Dh3.08 million to purchase his favourite number at the RTA's 94th auction early this month. "It is a good investment I am making and I advise others too to put their money in unique number plates," Waleed Abdul Khader told Khaleej Times, after parting with Dh3.08m to buy the special number O18. "Investing in number plates is part of my business and I have full confidence in the potential value appreciation. I have seen the value of number plates multiply several times over years," he added.
Khader said a number plate which was bought for Dh2m about seven years ago is worth Dh30m now. RTA's Al Marzouqi explained: "Such intense participation in various live and online auctions is indicative of the importance of these auctions in bringing happiness and added satisfaction to our customers."
But on some occasions, buyers found the starting bid for a special plate to be too expensive. The Q2 Dubai plate that started at Dh33m was left unsold at the 93rd auction in December last year. "It was very pricey," Nawaf Al Falasi, founder of Top Service company in Dubai, said. "If it was starting at Dh10 million or even Dh20 million, we would have made a bid."
The owner of the most expensive car plate in Sharjah, however, did not mind the price tag when he bought the emirate's No 1 plate. Al Zarouni, whose philosophy in life is "work hard and play hard" said: "The money that I spent in winning the coveted number plate at the auction has gone to charity. It is for a good cause. Moreover, the name of Dubai and the UAE is also highlighted. It makes me very happy.
"When my wife heard about it, she was surprised at first. But then she was very happy for me, so were my kids. The best thing that I got to hear from people was 'God bless you,' and the worst thing I heard was 'why did you waste so much money on a number plate.' But they changed their opinion when they learnt that the amount would be used for charity," he underlined
Moreover, the whopping Dh52.2 that Al Khouri spent to grab the '1' in Abu Dhabi was reportedly used to fund a rehabilitation centre for victims of traffic accidents.
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