Prestige, now a click away

The hunger for "distinguished" licence plates in the UAE has spread to the Internet, where bidders are driving up the price.

Saeed Al Khouri (center) holding plate no. 1 which was sold for Dh52.2 million, with Lt Col. Abdul Rahman Al Makali of Abu Dhabi Police (left) during the Number Plate Auction held at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, Saturday, February 16,2008. ( Photo by Paulo Vecina )
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ABU DHABI // The car number plate craze is taking off online, with bidders in the capital's second internet auction offering thousands of dirhams in a week-long bidding war for what at first glance appear to be some rather ordinary numbers. By yesterday morning, the number 702 had attracted 14 bids and an offer of Dh320,000 (US$87,160), while 694 received 12 bids and an offer of Dh280,000. With more than two days of bidding left to go, the number plates seem certain to earn even more money.

If that's too rich for you, a five-digit plate might be more to your taste: the number 12999 has so far fetched a mere Dh5,000 (US$1,362). All these, of course, pale in comparison with the record Dh52.2 million (US$14.2m) earned in February by the magic number one at an auction in the Emirates Palace hotel. Nevertheless, the bids for some of the more "ordinary" numbers are surprising even to the head of the company that runs the online auction.

"It's a surprise, but people have links with these numbers," said Abdullah al Mannaei, the managing director of Emirates Auction. But not a complete surprise: the choice of numbers, he said, was based on requests made on the website by potential bidders. "When we see a number requested by more than three people, we have a special strategy which guarantees when we add a number to the online auction we get the best result," he said.

Combinations of numbers that matched bidders' mobile telephone numbers were common, said Mr Mannaei. Others, like the request for plate number 1164 - Dh6,500 (US$1,770) so far - matched bidders' driving licences. Mr Mannaei said he believed part of the popularity of the online auction was the freedom it gave bidders to place bids over the week, rather than sit through hours of bidding at the Emirates Palace.