THE once-desired vanity plates are now selling at bargain prices in a monthly car licence-plate auction in Hong Kong.
It is obvious that the global financial crisis has hit this once-booming city hard when Hong Kong’s wealthy skimp on their cars.
The clearest sign occurred last Saturday, when a monthly auction of personalised licence plates raised a mere HK$8.7 million ($1.7 million) for a government charity fund, reported International Herald Tribune.
During the same month last year – when times were better – the auction fetched HK$33.7 million.
At an auction in January, plates like BACK OFF and THANK YOU went for less than HK$20,000 each.
MY CAR, which had been expected to be the star of that show, went under the hammer for a bargain-basement HK$40,000.
Even Mr Man Hon Ngan, director of Lucky Number, a dealer specialising in licence plates, is surprised.
He said: ‘I’m surprised how little some of these plates are fetching.’
Last month, he snapped up a plate reading simply MF, which went under the hammer for HK$130,000.
He also walked away with the registration mark HL for HK$80,000 – and had been prepared to pay as much as HK$380,000.
‘Before, two-letter plates like this would have cost a minimum of HK$300,000,’ he said.
Unique plates such as these are typical of playful wealth display that Hong Kongers indulge in. Those who can afford an expensive car love to individualise it to set themselves apart from the seven million-strong Hong Kong crowd, especially if it has a number ’8′ – deemed lucky.
Five of the world’s 10 most expensive licence plates were bought in Hong Kong, according to Regtransfers.co.uk – Britain’s largest independent personalised number-plates dealer, which also monitors the global market. The others were sold in Abu Dhabi and Britain.
The last three auctions fetched half the amount of sales compared with the same period a year ago.
Mr Ngan noted that the number of customers is down 20 per cent to 30 per cent, with those in banking and finance down by half.
Mr William Chu of 89.com.hk, another dealership, won CCC 888 last month for HK$30,000 – he had been prepared to pay twice as much.
‘I can’t believe MAM1 fetched only HK$5,000,’ he said.
‘When DADDY went up for auction recently, it cost a lot more.’
The vast majority of plates go for the minimum amount of HK$5,000.
In typical Hong Kong go-getting fashion, dealers like Mr Ngan and Mr Chu are anything but depressed about the muted market.
‘Now is a great time to buy plates at low prices,’ said Mr Ngan, adding that he believed that the market would pick up again towards the middle of this year. ‘There are enough rich people in Hong Kong.’
Mr Chu believes that nice plates will hold their value, and even appreciate, despite the harsh environment.