Asia Briefing: Number plate auction fails to placate motorists


One of the ways to control dire traffic congestion and air pollution is to ration the number of car number plates, and March’s auction in Shanghai saw the average cost of a plate hit nearly 92,000 yuan (€11,540), despite efforts to regulate the market.

Shanghai releases 9,000 number plates each month, and this was the ninth consecutive month that the average successful bid hit a record high.

This is about three times the cost of a small domestic car, although the high price of number plates means that people tend to spend more when they do buy a car, and often opt for a more expensive foreign brand.

In advance of the March auction, the Shanghai government said the price of a secondhand car plate should not exceed the auction price of new car plates, and blamed speculation for the surging price of number plates.

Buyers complain how scalpers and middlemen work the system to buy the plates, and then hoard the plates and resell them on the black market, driving the price higher.

No-drive days
One successful bidder, Chen Ji (28), who spent €11,600 on her number plates, told China Daily that efforts to cool prices were laughable.

“It’s just lip service. Officials know that Shanghai’s car plate prices are too expensive. What we got [during this month’s auction process] was a stupid reminder of the government saying ‘Please offer a rational bid’,” said Ms Chen. “There’s no way that I could have won the plate if I had followed that thought process,” she said.

Different cities are coming up with different approaches to dealing with congestion. As well as no-drive days, the number of plates has been restricted in many cities.

Beijing, for example, offers 20,000 plates a month by lottery, although many complain that demand vastly outstrips supply, and that it is just as difficult to win the number plate lottery as a regular one.

Shanghai’s deputy mayor Jiang Ping has promised to introduce new policies to try and cool down the market, including reserving new car plates for new cars only.