The Truth About Cars » license plates The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » license plates California Offering Legacy License Plates Fri, 05 Apr 2013 14:31:14 +0000

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

Your choices are black letters on a yellow background, yellow letters on a black background (the famous original black plates often found on California barn finds) and, my favorite – the color combination synonymous with the 1970s, Disco, leisure suits and “CHiPs,” – yellow letters on a blue background.

The program requires a minimum of 7500 paid pre-orders prior to January 1, 2015, but the DMV’s information states that, once that magic number of has been hit, the program will begin immediately so the wait for your new plates may be substantially less than it first appears. The best news is that you don’t have to own a classic car to get that classic look. But it helps!

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Curbing Cars, The Chinese Way – A Solution To Flagging Sales? Wed, 13 Mar 2013 14:43:38 +0000  

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.
“Now my mum needs to buy a car real soon, otherwise the win is forfeited.”

Ok, so buy a car, I say.

“But we already have two, and my mother does not enjoy driving.”

Ms. Zhang the elder could not resist entering the lottery though.

As the world knows, Beijing has enacted a lottery system to curb the number of cars on Beijing’s roads. That system seems to have the opposite effect.

Get rid of the oldest car and buy a new one, I suggest.

“That doesn’t solve the problem. I can keep the license plate of the old one when I sell it. We now have three plates. What shall I do?”

How about someone in the family, I suggest. Chinese are big on family.

“They don’t want it, they all have a car. Some have two.”

Ms. Zhang then relates to me the story of a lucky member of the extended family who came into two more license plates than he needs. “He bought two extra cars just to keep the plates. The cars sit in his garage.”

How about simply forgetting the whole thing? She already has two cars, does not want three, to hell with the extra license plate.

“But that plate is very valuable. Very hard to get.” Ms. Zhang is deeply conflicted.

If it’s so valuable, then sell the plate, I say. This is China, everything has its price.

“Cannot. Plate not transferrable,” says Ms Zhang. And there is an even bigger problem:

“After winning the lottery, if you don’t buy a car, you may never ever enter the lottery again.”

For the first time, I am out of good advice. I muse that when I came to China first in 2004, people were poor, nobody had a car, the highways were empty, and now, not even 10 years later …

Maybe that’s the solution to revive flagging car sales in Europe, and to bring America back to the 17 million heydays: Limit the cars people can have. Then, everybody will want three.

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Pimpin’ Number 39: A Tale From Afghanistan’s Nascent Car Culture Wed, 15 Jun 2011 16:23:38 +0000

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?

According to Reuters, the exact cause of the “39″ taboo is tough to pin down.

Kabul gossip blames a pimp in neighbouring Iran, which shares a common language with much of Afghanistan.

His flashy car had a 39 in its number plate, the story goes, so he was nicknamed “39″ and the tag spread.

But, as is so often the case with such seemingly irrational group manias, there’s a surprisingly rational explanation for how the number 39 actually became “taboo.” Whether or not an Iranian pimp actually made the number infamous, the Afghan license plates just rolled over from five digits starting with 38 to five digits starting with 39. Oh yes, and the police will charge anywhere from $200 to $500 to swap out a plate starting with 39 for a less-offensive plate. Or, in the words of Kabul’s car dealer union boss

It is a scheme by the police traffic department to earn money from buyers

The other perspective: it’s just so much groundless gossip, making its way from one Afghan town to the next. Whatever the case, cars with 39 on their license plate have seen their resale values plummet nearly by half (if, say their owners, they can even be sold at all), intensifying the irrational nature of the meme: after all, why give up thousands in resale over a $500 bribe for a new plate? But registrations have dried up as well, reportedly falling from 70-80 per day to “two or three,” showing how powerful even a wholly irrational taboo can be in Afghanistan’s traditional society. On the upside: mysterious rumors that spread quickly often disappear twice as fast. Hopefully Afghanistan’s motorists will overcome their fear of being mistaken for a pimp soon, and learn to live with the license plate they have.

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China In March 2011: Up 5.36 Percent Sun, 10 Apr 2011 15:10:39 +0000

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.

In March, a total of 1,828,500 vehicles changed hands in China. For the first quarter, sales were 4,983,800 for an increase of 8.08 percent. (And not 4.98 percent, as AFP erroneously reports.) Production for the first quarter stands at 4,895,800 units for an increase of  7.48 percent.

Passenger vehicle sales still run at a healthy clip, up 6.52 percent in March to 1,347,600 units. For the first three quarters, passenger vehicle sales are up 9.07 percent. (All percentages compared to same period in the previous year.)

Dong Yang, executive vice president and secretary-general of the CAAM, blamed the slower growth rates on the oil price hike, the expiration of tax incentives, auto purchase restrictions in cities like Beijing, and lastly the Japanese earthquakes.

In my humble opinion, the market is simply taking a breather after the record 32 percent run-up to more than 18 million units in 2010. There was a pull-forward effect in the sub 1.6 L class, which still dominates the market. This effect needs to be digested. I had expected a slight decline in Q1. The 18 million Chinese market is intact and it looks like 20 million by year’s end.

What may be in need of service is our patent pending TTAC Chinese market sales oracle. In March, GM China’s sales rose only 1.9 percent across all joint ventures, under-performing the market.  But let’s give our oracle a break: For the first quarter, GM China’s sales were up 10 percent, whereas the market rose 9 percent. The oracle is doing alright. A little oil, and it will be fine.

In related news and pursuant to our yesterday’s story on the Chinese license plate roulette, Xinhua reports today that “a total of 491,671 people in Beijing had applied for the monthly lottery of 17,600 license plates for April, which means only one out of 28 will turn out to be winners.” 111,728 new applicants mix in with the luckless from the previous months. If this trend continues, in June your chances of winning a Straight Up in roulette will be better than your odds of winning a license plate in Beijing.




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TTAC Dossier: Chinese Roulette, Or The Tao Of Beijing Car Ownership Sat, 09 Apr 2011 16:52:34 +0000

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!


Those would be your odds in Beijing.

Truth be told, I exaggerated a bit. The odds to win a plate stood at 1 to 23 in March, that’s somewhere between a Split Zero and a Straight Up in roulette. The odds get increasingly worse as the year grinds on, as new applicants join the swelling ranks of previous losers, and as the payout remains the shape of a license plate: Flat.

See, Beijing drowns in cars. By the end of last year, there were 4.8 million vehicles on Beijing’s roads. In 2010 alone, 700,000 new cars were registered. Or 890,000 new cars, depending on which issue of China Daily you rely more. The smog is pretty much under control. It’s the roadways. The city is dying from acute congestion.

The city could have done the same Shanghai does. That beautiful city also has a population the size of Australia. Shanghai is divided by a river, and connected by tunnels that entrap the unwitting traveler. If your hotel is on the wrong side of the river, your flight from Hong Kong or Beijing to Shanghai can be quicker than the taxi trip to the hotel. That’s why Shanghai has two airports, one for each side of the river.

Years ago, Shanghai applied a typical Chinese method to the problem: Money. In Shanghai, a limited number of license plates is auctioned off once a month. They go to the highest bidder. You think that’s because China has just recently been poisoned by bourgeois ideas?  The plate auction is looking back at a 16 year tradition. This April, 8,000 tags will come under the (computerized) hammer, that’s about what Beijing used to issue in four days. A Shanghai plate sets you back more than a QQ: Last month, the average price for a plate was $7,053. Shanghai Daily [sub] reckons that this month, the price will reach new highs.

The $10,000 plate is not too far off (also helped by the tanking dollar and rising Chinese currency.)

Beijing did not want to stoop to the lows of that frivolous westernized port city. Beijing decided on a system that gives the same rotten chance to rich and poor: A lottery. On Christmas eve last year, the city handed the Beijingers a present: 240,000 new cars for the year, that’s it. Each month, the winner is drawn by (computerized) lottery.

The entrance to the lottery wants to be earned. First, you have to download an application from the Internet. Global Times says the address is, but they trick you. It’s somewhere else. Once you have found it, you need to fill in the form and send it in. Then the application gets checked. In the first round in January, 210,000 applications came in. Only 187,420 made it into the lottery. I don’t know what the 22,580 did wrong, but there must be a way to keep out the riff-raff. If your application is accepted, you get a number, and if your number comes up in the monthly lottery, you get a plate.

With 240,000 plates available for the year, 20,000 plates should be awarded each month. However, it is only 17,600 for each lucky draw, the balance is reserved for commercial drivers, businesses and government use.

The unlucky candidates are carried over into the next month’s lottery, where they meet the new qualifying applicants. In February, it was 292,000 candidates with a one in sixteen chance. In March, the number had swelled to 397,543 candidates with odds of one in 23. It will get worse every month. Maybe even every year, with plateless and luckless zombies pouring in in January. Speaking of worse:

Beijing’s desperate car dealers geared up to fight for 20,000 first time buyers each month. To their dismay, less than 10 percent of the winners actually bought a car. By the end of February, 3,400 out of 35,200 had their hard earned plate affixed to a new car. The holdouts have six months to get one, if they don’t, the plate goes back in the pot.

As expected, the system is being gamed. Beijingers immediately activated China’s most forceful weapon: The family. Yang Hongshan, deputy director of the department of urban planning at Renmin University is not surprised by the huge numbers of applicants. “Car buyers will mobilize their close relations, such as their family members, to take part in the drawing,” said the scholar. But the house has better odds. As the months wear on, you would need a family of 50 or more to stand a chance.

More sinister schemes were devised: Beijing’s courts were turned into accessories of fraud. Fake debts were created, with a car as “collateral”. The court awarded the car to the alleged “lender.” That was quickly stomped-upon. Now, the only way to get court-cashiered cars (without the need for a plate) is through public auction. On April 4, a picture of a man bidding for a car appeared in Global Times. The story is gone. The front-page was cached by Google. The link goes nowhere.

If in doubt, keep it simple: License plate theft is on the rise in China’s capital. This prompted Beijing’s finest to activate 2,600 video cameras to find purloined plates. Fines are relatively mild: A maximum of $275, and the loss of a license, if you have one. What good is a license anyway, if you can’t have a car?

The economy of Beijing pays a much higher price. Earlier in the year, Beijing’s Municipal Commission calculated that Beijing’s car dealers (in some of which the city itself is heavily invested) will have lost more than $9 billion of sales this year. Wang Shuxia of the commission based his calculation on an estimated 580,000 cars sold. His estimate is based on 240,000 replaced cars (which do not need a new plate) and 240,000 cars for first time buyers (which do.)

This projection may not pan out. Replacing a car assumes getting rid of the old one. China’s new car dealers have yet to learn the art of the trade-in. Now, as much as they are dying to sell you a new one, what would they do with the old? The used car market is dead in Beijing. Buyers of used cars need a plate, and the plate does not transfer. Before you find a farmer in the countryside as a willing buyer, you rather drive the old one a year longer. Also, if the trend of winning a plate and not buying a car continues, there will not be 240,000 new cars. Car buying used to account for 26 percent of retail transactions in Beijing. That number will most likely be revised.

Criticism of the system is on the rise. More so than elsewhere in the world, you aren’t a successful car dealer in Beijing without guanxi – connections. The booming car trade attracted some well connected billionaires.

The tone of the reporting by state media (China Daily is owned by the Central Government through Xinhua, Global Times is owned by the party through People’s Daily) is getting more strident with each new round of lot drawing.

Chen Jianguo, deputy head of the industrial coordination department of the powerful National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC), warned in February that purchase restrictions are not only insufficient to deal with the congestion problem, but could harm consumers and the industry overall. Just about each province in China, plus the Central Government, has their hands in one or more car companies. Chen recommended something familiar: Usage taxes.

The decision of Beijing’s municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology to accept a proposal to exempt pure EVs from the lottery can be seen as a shrewd deflection of the mounting criticism. Others can view it as a chance to turn Beijing into a true green city. Others again may think it is the culmination of a long hatched plan to pry the car away from its driver. Whatever it is, it will be interesting to watch.


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Beijing Measures Ease Traffic. At Car Dealers Mon, 28 Feb 2011 08:30:22 +0000

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. “

According to the manager, only 2,000 vehicles were purchased citywide after 17,600 plates were approved through the lottery. Instead of buying cars, Beijingers now hoard license plates. The paper found a salesman at a Chery dealership in Beijing who said that just 10 customers with plate numbers visited the shop in January.

Previously, Chi rechkoned that the car restriction regulation would cause about one-third of Beijing’s car dealers to go out of business. Now he forecasts that half will close.

TTAC’s forecast: The limitations will be watered down and will eventually go away.

Chen Jianguo, deputy head of the industrial coordination department of the powerful National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC), already warned that purchase restrictions are not only insufficient to deal with the congestion problem, but could harm consumers and the industry overall, reports Gasgoo. Like many his colleagues in the West, Chen recommends usage-based taxation instead.

On Friday, China passed a new law that decreases taxes on cars with smaller engines, while raising the tax on cars with bigger bore motors, Xinhua reports.

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