Personalised number plate sales raise HK$245m

Selling personalised number plates to highest bidder has made a fortune for the government, with an auction yesterday continuing the trend

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 7:42am

Auctions of personalised car number plates have earned the government nearly a quarter of a billion dollars since they began in 2006.

More than 16,000 plates were sold between September 2006 - when the Transport Department introduced personalised plates - and December of last year, raising HK$245,136,000.

The most expensive plates were "1 L0VE U" and "CH", which sold for HK$1.4 million each, in 2006 and 2008.

Surprisingly, for a city with plenty of luxury-car owners, the plates "P0RSCHE" and "FERRAR1" went for a relatively affordable HK$700,000 in 2006.

At the latest plate auction at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai yesterday, businessman Pal Lai paid HK$50,000 for a plate reading "W1SH U", one of 233 plates that sold for a total of HK$2.5 million. He said that over the past several years he had spent more than HK$1 million on plates - snapping up "L0VE U", "K1SS U", "0NLY U" and "M1SS U" - to use on his various cars.

"There's no particular reason why I started collecting personalised number plates but once I started, I couldn't stop," Lai said. His most expensive plate is "M1SS U", which cost him HK$380,000.

Meanwhile, a construction worker spent HK$5,000 - the reserve price - on a plate that reads "L0CUST". He denied that it had anything to do with the derogatory term some Hongkongers use to refer to mainland visitors. Rather, he said the word was associated with a childhood memory.

"It's just the nickname my friends called me when I was young. It has nothing to do with anti-mainland sentiment," he said. He said his friends called him Locust because he devoured all the food in their homes when he went over to visit.

Internet users coined the term "locusts" to describe mainlanders who flock to the city and "consume" its resources - property, luxury goods, and bed spaces in hospital maternity wards - in the process driving up rents and forcing smaller shops out of business.

Another plate up for auction yesterday was "2S1MPLE" - reminiscent of the phrase "too simple and sometimes naive" - a criticism former president Jiang Zemin once levelled at Hong Kong's media.

No one put in any bids for the plate, so it will be allocated to the applicant.

A personalised number plate may consist of up to eight letters and numbers. The characters 'I', 'O' and 'Q' are not allowed to avoid confusion. Applicants may propose plate names, which are then put up for bidding.