Every culture has ways to demonstrate wealth. In the U.S., it might be sauntering around with designer handbags or apparel. Or maybe a yacht. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it can be something as simple a license plate—albeit one that cost millions.
According to Bloomberg, an unidentified individual won a vanity plate, P7, for 55 million dirhams, or $15 million, at a Dubai auction in April. It exceeds the old record of 52.2 million dirhams ($14.3 million) paid for a 1 license plate in Abu Dhabi in 2008. Another custom plate, emblazoned with D5, sold in 2016 for 33 million dirhams. (As the plates usually set the letter off to one side, the numbers appear to be standalone.)
In the UAE, plates with low or single-digit numbers are considered a signifier of wealth and have a cultural cachet to them. Balvinder Singh Sahni, who bought D5, told Bloomberg that Dubai “is a city of gold … everybody wants to show their status.”
Sahni got a taste of that status in 2006, when he wasn’t permitted to enter a high-end hotel owing to his multi-digit license plate, He was essentially plate-shamed.
Typically, license plate auctions remit the substantial proceeds to charity. For P7, the bid will help fund Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s 1 Billion Meals Endowment. It benefits buyers, too: Plates are typically transferable and owned for life. If the owner chooses to sell, the plates often appreciate over time.
In the U.S., vanity license plates can be requested through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Some states, like Texas, offer plate auctions for sought-after words or phrases. In many states, though, no auction will net you plates with banned lettering. In Arizona, for example, DAPOOP and MCBOOB are prohibited. Then again, $15 million might change some minds.