Three years ago, the record for the highest amount ever paid for a single-digit vehicle registration number was smashed with the bid of RM1,111,111 for “Malaysia 1” – over RM120,000 more than the previous top bid of RM989,000 for “V1”.
2019 was also the year in which the government introduced the online bidding system for car registration numbers, which saw a jump in the number of people looking to secure customised plate numbers.
Prior to the launch of the e-bidding system, personalised car plate numbers were largely associated with VVIPs such as members of royal families and dignitaries.
In 2012, for example, Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar paid RM520,000 for registration number “WWW 1”.
Two years later, he also won the bid for “W1N”, at RM748,000.
Now, though, some three million people are registered with the Road Transport Department’s JPJeBid system which allows road users to bid online for the licence plate number of their dreams.
Sometimes, the cost of these numbers can reach exorbitant levels.
Even today, as most Malaysians struggle to deal with the rising cost of living, statistics on the bids made for vehicle registration numbers appear to show an upward trend.
According to vehicle registration number dealer Wallace Choy, the main bidders these days are still politicians and VIPs.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow at his company Auto Plate Division in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, he said these individuals would especially target single-digit registration numbers according to their preferred states.
“Up until now, most of these appear to come from Johor,” he said.
He said many numbers such as 1 and 2 have in fact been “locked” by the Johor ruler, leaving only a few digits for which ordinary people can bid.
“Sometimes, there is not even a single digit that can be bid for in Johor,” he said.
“So many are willing to spend big in order to get a single-digit number from there – usually hundreds of thousands of ringgit.”
In states such as Selangor and Perak, meanwhile, government agencies and state administrations often make advance bookings for certain registration numbers to be used for their official vehicles.
Choy said he was unsure of the system used in such cases.
“It’s possible that they make early bookings by paying the minimum bidding fee so that no one else can bid on these numbers,” he added.
There are also the so-called hardcore collectors and fans of special letter- and number-based series.
Choy said they, too, are willing to fork out a lot of money in order to obtain their dream name or number combinations.
“Some letters and numbers can be turned into names or other words with different meanings. So they are fine with spending big bucks,” he said.
For example, the recent “TCM” series received an encouraging response, especially from Chinese bidders whose initials happen to correspond with the letter combination.
Bidders aside, there are also vehicle number plate sales agents who frequently utilise the JPJeBid system.
Such individuals bid for and then sell attractive licence plate numbers for higher prices.
“Buyers who missed the bidding period, for instance, will look for such agents to get the numbers that they wanted,” Choy said.
“Of course, they will have to pay a bit more since the agents put down their money in advance and spent time getting them those numbers.”
Bidders for licence plate numbers come from all ages and ethnicities. Their numbers of choice reflect their taste and mindsets and, in some cases, changing cultural trends.
“Previously, the Chinese didn’t like the number 4 because it sounds like the word for ‘death’,” Choy said.
“But now, the youth are chasing after it because it makes them feel as if they are sitting cross-legged, like a big boss. So the number 4 is very popular in e-bidding.”
On the flipside, there are also combinations of numbers that no one seems to want, such as 8481 which resembles the word “BABI” or “pig”.
A JPJ retiree called Rosli from Seremban in Negeri Sembilan said he had been an active agent during his time at the department.
He would make announcements to his contacts about the latest series of letters and numbers on the market.
At that time, bidding was still done manually at the JPJ counters.
After he retired in 2017, Rosli began bidding for numbers and selling them to interested customers.
He also offered his services as a “numbers hunter” for as low as RM500.
“Some customers wanted old numbers for sentimental reasons,” he said. “I once had a customer who wanted the letters RF followed by his personnel number in the police force.”
Rosli managed to track down the number by checking the system. It was already owned by someone else, but the person sold it to his customer for RM11,000.
For years now, Rosli has handled all manner of requests from customers with stories of love and grief behind their numbers of choice.
He has also come across customers up to their necks in debt, to the extent that they were being chased by loan sharks and criminal organisations.
He said such customers were usually from the Malay community and without any stable form of income. Yet, he added, they insisted on paying huge amounts of money for the numbers of their choice.
“I had one case where a customer asked me to resell his number so that he could pay his debts,” he said.
“In another case, an Ah Long contacted me directly asking for my customer’s work address. But I don’t know them,” he added. “All of our business transactions are done through WhatsApp.”
According to Rosli, it is the lack of requirements such as bank documents, salary statements and job offer letters which makes the bidding process so popular.
“But when people are not wise in the decisions that they make, they end up bringing losses upon themselves,” he said.