UAE biggest spender on rare number plates

Distinguished Number Plates are displayed at the auction in Dubai. (FILE)

UAE residents are the biggest spenders in the world when it comes to buying exceptional or rare registration plates, according to the UK's Regtransfer website, which monitors the amount of money being spent on car registrations across the world.

The UAE holds the world record for the most expensive number plate ever auctioned - Plate No. 1, was auctioned for a staggering Dh52.5 million in Abu Dhabi in February 2008 as part of Emirates Auctions' charity drive, which sold 90 number plates in a series of auctions to raise Dh88.15 million ($24m) for accident victims.

But that isn't all - the UAE also holds the world record for the second most expensive plate (Dh25.2m), the third most expensive (Dh16.5m), the fourth most expensive plate (Dh11.4m) and also the fifth most expensive number plate ever auctioned (Dh10m), squaring off the world's top 5 most expensive number plates.

In all, the country boasts of 74 per cent (37 of the top 50) of the world's most expensive number plates ever auctioned, catapulting the Middle East as the top region where private car registrations command the most spectacular sums, followed by South East Asia (primarily Hong Kong) and the UK.

Of the 37 plates (among top 50) auctioned in the UAE, almost all were in Abu Dhabi, with Dubai accounting for just one such expensive buy (No. 22, for Dh3.1m), according to Regtransfer data. The total money that UAE residents spent collectively for those 37 number plates is more than Dh225 million - the most in the world.

Hong Kong is a distant second, with five number plates worth just HKD50.5 million (Dh23.86m) among the global top 50. Rounding off the top three is UK, where eight number plates together fetched £2.57 million (Dh14.89m) in auction.

"The values of top quality number plates are growing, worldwide. With each year that passes, international records for the highest prices paid are being shattered," said Regtransfer, adding that is it difficult to pinpoint reasons that compels car owners to pay such huge amounts on registration.

"It is, perhaps, harder for some people to understand why owners willingly pay many thousands of pounds for their ultimate personalised number plates. While there is still a fun aspect, even to the most expensive and sought-after registrations, many owners also have very serious reasons for their purchases. In fact, 'investments' is probably a more appropriate word to use in these cases," it said.

The factors that dictate the value of a registration number are many and varied. With initials, it is mostly the number of people who have those particular initials. If that number is large, then the potential demand is considerable and that can make some "initials" plates fairly valuable. With names and words, the value comes from a combination of potential demand and the quality of the number from a visual point of view. With "number 1" plates, the value is due to exclusivity and prestige.

An increasing number of sharp-eyed buyers have the knack of spotting those number plates with the most potential. They purchase them speculatively, with the intention of selling later at a profit. And it really is a serious investment, in just the same way as investment in stocks and shares, or in art. Former Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson is famously quoted as saying that a good personal registration could be "better than money in the bank".