Vanity plates of the wealthy in Hong Kong, or I’ll take “18” for $2 million

I’ve become obsessed with license plate spotting. While most Hong Kong car plates are “normal” (two letters followed by four numbers), a small percentage are exceptionally striking in their individuality. I was amused when I spotted “ONION” and “POTATO.” I wretched slightly when I saw “POSHMUM.” And I started keeping track when I spotted “INVENTOR,” PIZZA” and lots of cryptic uses of “8” (a very lucky number in Chinese as it sounds like “wealth”).

It turns out that vanity license plates are quite popular among a certain Hong Kong set.  As this NY Times article puts it:

“The popularity of what is the ultimate not-must-have car accessory is typical of the type of playful wealth display that Hong Kongers love: Those who can afford an expensive car love to individualize it, to set themselves apart from the seven million-strong Hong Kong crowd.”

A little research has uncovered that the plate names are auctioned off by the government to raise funds for poverty initiatives. So, it’s a win-win: those with money burning holes in their pockets can personalize their cars, and money is raised for good local causes. Details of the program and results of the auctions since 2006 can be found at the Personalize Vehicle Registration Mark Scheme website.

After cruising the government site, I now know that individuals submit personalized plate name applications which are then offered at public auction. Many of these plate names go to the original submitter for the minimum reserve bid of 5,000 HKD (about $650 US). But certain prized plates go for much, much more.

The richest of the rich apparently prefer the classy simplicity of two-initial plates which fetch the highest prices generally. For example, the prices of “TV,” “M X,” “JK,” “KC,” TF,” and “AY” ranged from HKD 140,000 to 600,000 (roughly to US $18,000 to $77,000)!

The highest priced plate I ran across was simply “18” which sold during a special Lunar New Year auction for a breathtaking HKD 16,500,000 (US $2.1 million)! My search was rather haphazard so there may be even higher priced plates.

There are also plenty of pretentious or humorous plates, including: “BANKER,” “SUCCESS,” “LAW,” K1NGK0NG,” “HE1OK1TY,” “ANGEL,” “HAPPY,” “GANGSTA,” “POSHBOY,” “JAGUAR,” “GOLFCLUB,” “911TURBO,” “FERRAR1,” “FAT,’ and “1 AM FAT.”

But, above all, this vanity plate–“GOD”– spotted by the now defunct blog Hong Kong Vanity Plates, takes the cake:

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17 responses to “Vanity plates of the wealthy in Hong Kong, or I’ll take “18” for $2 million

    • I know, right? My eyebrows raised when I realized that even the cheapest plates were US 650, I gasped at US 77,000 and I felt seriously ill at 2 million. Thank god the money raised goes to poverty initiatives.

  1. It’s amazing the amount of money people are willing to shell out for a vanity plate. I think car ownership in HK has more to do with status symbol rather than necessity that most folks are happy to pay the big bucks to have that standout moment. Years ago certain numbers were popular with plates, phone numbers or as part of an address but since they were in limited supply I guess people are now moving on to bidding up words and acronyms.
    Some numbers when spoken in Cantonese rhymes with certain words and so it can be strung together like lucky charms.
    2 (rhymes with easy), 3 (life or fertility), 4 (death), 8 (wealth or prosperity), 9 (long lasting)
    So it’s no surprise 2828, 2328, 9898, 8888 and so on are popular ones. On the flip side 2424 or 4444 are to be avoided
    As to why ‘18’ fetched millions I can only guess beside it’s a cool 2-ditgit number for car plate the ‘1’ when spoken in Mandarin sounds like ‘2’ in Cantonese and so it’s as good as a ‘28’. But still hard for me to imagine when the plate cost more than the car.

    • I’m back. I just remembered that there is a fancy restaurant in the New Territories called “Shatin 18” so I know there must be something special about this number. Wikipedia to the rescue with this: “In Chinese tradition, the number 18 is normally 十八 (shí bā), but it can also be read as 幺八 (yāo bā), which sounds like 要发 (yào fā), meaning that one is going to prosper. Thus, building floors numbered “18” are often very expensive in China.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/18_(number)

      • Ah! Another clever wordplay. Also true from Wiki that Chinese folklore and myths assume Hell consists of 18 levels with # 18 reserved for the most vile and wicked. I am sure whoever paying for the number wasn’t thinking about Hell 🙂

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