Hong Kong’s vanity car plates are a coveted luxury that can sell for millions at auction
The namesake of the headline-grabbing tech titan is one of a number of selected vehicle license plates — including “BAD G1RL,” “LATTE” and “SHADYB1Z” — that went under the hammer at the end of January. The auction’s highest bid went to “1 HH” for 115,000 Hong Kong dollars ($14,684).
It’s a hot market. Hong Kong residents have been known to pay millions of dollars for a coveted plate. In 2008, “18” — considered a lucky number in Cantonese — went for 16.5 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.1 million). Eight years later, “28” went for 18.1 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.3 million).
But the record was set in March 2021, when one bidder spent 26 million Hong Kong dollars ($3.3 million) for a plate with a single letter: “W.”
Watch: Hong Kong vanity car plates can sell for millions
A Transportation Department spokesperson told CNN that all revenue from the auctions of personalized vehicle plates, which occur regularly, go straight to the Hong Kong government’s Treasury.
For car owners, the vanity plates can carry personal meaning. Real estate tycoon Cecil Chao purchased his, “CEC1L,” at a relative steal for just over $20,000 Hong Kong dollars ($2,550 in 2007). It now graces his silver and burgundy Rolls Royce.
He also has a Bentley bearing his surname “CHAO” and a convertible Rolls Royce with “4” — an unlucky number in Cantonese and Mandarin, as it sounds like “death,” but not for the Shanghai-born property developer.
“I was born in China, in Shanghai,” says Chao. “In Shanghainese, number four (sounds like) ‘happiness’ — this is my philosophy of life.”
Since 2006, over 40,000 “personalized vehicle registration marks” have been sold at auction by the Hong Kong Transport Department, with prices starting at around 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($640).
Interested parties must first inquire whether their proposed mark meets the Transport Department’s requirements. Car owners can create plates of up to eight characters (including spaces) but cannot include the letters “I,” “O” and “Q.” Once the mark is cleared, it has to be bought via auction.
“Are U 0K” spotted on a Hong Kong highway. Credit: Alex Dicker/CNN
“These vanity plates are used by their owners to highlight their status, wealth, humor, desires, superstitions or even their favorite food,” Salati says.
“To me, each plate is like a line of poetry, racing through the streets of the city. I could see that it’s a kind of poetry in motion.”
Salati’s online platform collects photos of personalized plates and invites users to string them together into poetry.
The new owner of the “EL0NMUSK” registration mark, and the make of their car, is currently unknown.
Top image caption: A yellow Lamborghini in Hong Kong sporting the license plate “SIN.” Illustration by Ian Berry, photos by CNN/Adobe Stock.