By on April 5, 2013

The California state DMV is offering motorists the chance to step back in time and order new license plates in historic color combinations.

(Read More…)

By on March 13, 2013

 

I am coming back to China after having been away for months. My trusted sidekick of many years, a lady surnamed Zhang, seeks my advice. “Bertel, we have car problems.” Uh-oh, I think, and I mentally do a review of my accounts. This smells expensive. As it turns out, the problem is bigger than what money can solve.

Ms. Zhang explains that her mother won the lottery. The Beijing license plate lottery.
(Read More…)

By on June 15, 2011

The confrontation between modern, Western societies and deeply traditional lifestyles in Afghanistan creates a healthy supply of fascinating car stories, as we’ve already heard about such uniquely Afghan manifestations of car culture as the Taliban’s Toyota Hilux-inspired maple leaf tattoos. And now here’s another one, fresh off the Reuters wire: Afghans are reportedly in a tizzy over (get this) license plates containing the number 39. Yes, really.

Afghanistan’s booming car sales industry has been thrown into chaos by a growing aversion to the number “39″, which almost overnight has become an unlikely synonym for pimp and a mark of shame in this deeply conservative country.

Drivers of cars with number plates containing 39, bought before the once-harmless double digits took on their new meaning, are mocked and taunted across Kabul.

“Now even little kids say ‘look, there goes the 39′. This car is a bad luck, I can’t take my family out in it,” said Mohammad Ashraf who works for a United Nations project.

Other “39″ owners flew into a rage or refused to speak when asked whether their car was a burden.

The Guardian adds:

I did not think it would matter when I got my car,” said Zalmay Ahmadi, a 22-year-old business student. “But when I drive around all the other cars flash their lights, beep their horns and people point at me. All my classmates now call me Colonel 39.”

We’ve heard of huge demand for certain-numbered license plates before, such as the craze in Arab countries for the lowest possible license number… but we’ve never heard of a taboo number when it comes to license plates. So what gives?

(Read More…)

By on April 10, 2011

Beijing’s war on the ICE notwithstanding, auto sales in China rose by 5.36 percent in March. That is the headline from a Sunday afternoon press conference held by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). More than 60 journalists were poised to report that for the first time any of them could remember, the Chinese market did sink. But it went the other way. Still up. (Read More…)

By on April 9, 2011

This is the first in an infrequent series of pieces that take a step back from breathless blogging. They look at a phenomenon over the longer term, they have more in-depth research, they are hence a bit longer. We will run them on weekends, when some may have the time for 1,200 or more words.

Imagine, if you dare, you live in China’s capital, Beijing. It’s a nice place, actually. The population of Australia crammed into one sprawling city. Good food. Nice people. Great nightlife. As cities go, it covers a lot of space. Beijing proper is a bit less the size of Kuwait.

Now imagine you have your eyes set on a new car. Chery QQ, Chevy Escalade, whatever. What do you have to do to get behind the wheel? You have to win the lottery. Not to buy the car, a QQ goes for a few grand. You need to win the lottery for the same thing that keeps felons employed back home: A small piece of blue and white tin, a license plate.

Your chances of winning are rotten. Imagine you go to Vegas, you put a chip on a single number. If that number comes up on the first spin of the wheel, you may buy a car. If not: Better luck next month, ta-dah!

Next! (Read More…)

By on February 28, 2011

Beijing is in a state of confusion after China’s capital drastically slashed the number of license plates available. You literally have to win the lottery to get a plate. Most winners keep the prized (but non-transferable) possession at home. Writes the party organ People’s Daily: “Only about 11 percent of those who won rights to car licenses plates through the new lottery system bought cars in Beijing in January, the first month after restrictions were implemented, according to Chi Yifeng, general manager of Beijing Yayuncun Automobile Transaction Market, the biggest car retail market in China. “ (Read More…)

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