In Switzerland, your license plate is more than just a number – it can represent your wealth, heritage and even your overall place in society. Since vanity plates are illegal, Switzerland’s elite are using a different way to distinguish themselves. They’re hunting for low license plate numbers, and they’re willing to pay whatever the price.
Every Swiss license plate has a two-letter abbreviation for the canton followed by the license number itself. However, unlike most countries, this number does not represent the car, but rather the actual person. Yes, in Switzerland your plate number stays with you for your whole life . . . and beyond. It’s not uncommon for parents to transfer their license plates to their children, meaning the lower the plate number, the longer your family has been around for – and this longstanding prestige is exactly what buyers are paying top dollar for.
Of course, you don’t have to be directly related to a person in order to transfer your license plate to them, and this has sparked a special kind of government-sanctioned license plate brokering industry. Earlier this March, for example, entrepreneur Otto Ruppen shelled out over 160 thousand francs (nearly 130 thousand pounds) for the number one plate for the Canton of Valais.
Valais is not alone in the number plate trade. Every canton in the Swiss Confederation is making a profit from the license plate craze with the exception of one – the small Canton of Zug – which does not charge a fee for transferring private license plates. Other cantons are taking a far more proactive approach, even going so far as to devote entire government websites solely for the purpose of license plate transfers.
St. Gallen made nearly 1.7 million francs in 2014 alone just by selling special numbers of government vehicles at auction. These low numbers had belonged primarily to emergency response vehicles before being offered to the public. Zurich does something similar every year and typically earns anywhere from 2.5 million francs to 3 million francs each time, according to Peter Kyburz, head of the Zurich traffic office.
A low number isn’t necessarily a requirement for becoming rich off of your license plate. Having a number that’s rare or unique will fetch a fair price, too. At the end of 2016, ZH 888 888 sold for just over 50 thousand francs due to its repetitive numeric sequence. If you want a coveted low-digit number, however, the price is a bit lower – a four-digit plate in Zurich runs for a minimum of 2 thousand francs.
As enthusiastic as Switzerland is about their low-number plates, the United Arab Emirates has the Swiss summarily beaten. In October of 2013, an Indian businessman named Balwinder Sahani spent 33 million dirhams (that’s well over 7 million pounds) for a D5 plate (“D” standing for “Dubai”)! Hey, when you have that kind of money, you can spend it on whatever you want.