THE sale of vehicle registration numbers is a big deal for the Road Transport Department (JPJ).
Out of its yearly RM4bil revenue, 30% was derived from selling vehicle registration numbers while road tax renewals made up the bulk of the remaining 70%, its director-general Datuk Shaharuddin Khalid said.
Throughout history, the most expensive bid handled by JPJ was “Malaysia 1” which was won by Aldi International Sdn Bhd at RM1,111,111 in 2018.
The latest release, featuring the SYG Sabah series, netted RM3.4mil with a total of 3,173 bids over a five-day period from June 10.
“The revenue from the registration of numbers is one of the ways for JPJ to earn an income.
“These series are issued by every state.
“The top three states with the highest number of issues for 2019 are Kuala Lumpur with 33 series, followed by Johor, 13, and Penang, 10, ” said Shaharuddin.
JPJ did not create the special numbers but public interpretation was responsible for driving market demand, he added.
It all boils down to the alphabetical and numerical sequence that comes with the registration process.
Of the 1,089,891 vehicles registered in 2019, a total of 109 series were created by JPJ’s registration system.
This year, 44 series were produced from 439,956 vehicle registrations.
“When we started the SY Sabah series, it followed the sequence of SYA, SYB and so forth.
“When it came to SYG last month, public interpretation saw it as ‘sayang’ (meaning dearest in Bahasa Malaysia).
“When the sequence reached SYG 8005, people read it as ‘dearest boss’ with the number eight being read as ‘B’.
“This practice has been going on for a long time, even before I joined the department, ” said Shaharuddin.
Bidding can start from as low as RM300 for regular or running numbers up to RM20,000 for single-digit plates.
The minimum bid increase is 5% for each category.
There is no set formula on what makes a number sellable or special.
One such bidder who took the time to explain why his DJ 500 number plate is meaningful is Datuk Irwan Shah Abdullah, better known as DJ Dave.
While the significance of the alphabetical sequence is obvious, there is a personal story why 500 appealed to the singer.
“Five is my lucky number. This is because I was born on February 14. So, one plus four is equivalent to my lucky number, ” said DJ Dave.
Owners are known to go to great lengths to obtain these special numbers.
In DJ Dave’s case, the number plate was still attached to an old Datsun, so he decided to buy the car.
He kept the number but the car was gifted to a runner as reward for finding the special registration plate.
His vanity plate now sits on a motorbike he uses on his daily marketing trips.
Known to fetch good prices, special numbers comprise a single number and letter (for example A1) or when there is a combination of double letters and digits (AF15), repeats (AA11) and triple letters or numbers (WWW1 or BGP777).
A used luxury car dealer, who only wanted to be known as Melvin, said he received eight to 10 calls a month from vanity plate enthusiasts.
These are readily on sale over online marketplaces.
In Melvin’s 10 years of experience, the most expensive plate he sold was one with double alphabets and a single digit costing RM350,000.
“The bulk of our stock for special numbers are from owners of used cars.
“The rest are from successful bids to JPJ.
“In this business, there is no such thing as fast-selling numbers. Three months can go by without any enquiries. But there are popular numbers. The single digits will be like three, seven and running numbers like 3388 and 3399, ” he said.
However, he pointed out that a special number plate did not raise the value of a used vehicle.
“If an owner intends to sell his registration number, it is best that he does it separately from his vehicle.
“This can be done by transferring the number to a new motorcycle so that he can then sell his car and keep the number until a buyer comes along, ” he said.
That there was a willing market for special vehicle registration numbers paved the way for non-profit organisations to sell plates and raise money.
This privilege, however, was recently discontinued.
“Personalised number plate series were previously given to these organisations to raise funds. We did not allow private companies to apply, ” said Shaharuddin.
He said the application had to go through the Transport Minister’s office for approval before JPJ could start the due process.
“JPJ’s job is to ensure the requested series is not already in our system.
“If the requested series of numbers coincide with JPJ’s existing sequences, it will not be approved. For example, a series beginning with a single Q or E would be approved because these are not in contra to our system or used by any other state, ” he said.
Should the series applied for be approved, the non-profit body pays JPJ RM1mil before the series can be released to it.
The fee will cover numbers one to 9999 and the onus is on the applicant to sell these numbers within six months.
“The price was such because the non-profit organisations are able to sell these numbers on their own.
“We are neither empowered to audit nor control how much they charge their customers for these numbers, ” said Shaharuddin.
Since 2010, JPJ said it made RM37mil from the issuance of such personalised plates to various organisations.
The first to be issued its own series under this arrangement was Kelab Explorasi 7 Benua Malaysia’s G1M plate to fund expeditions to places like Mount Everest and Greenland.
The Environmental Management and Research Association of Malaysia (Ensearch) is the last non-profit body to receive JPJ approval for its IM plate number which was issued in April 2018.
But as of December 31,2019, the sale and registration of special numbers by non-profit organisations was no longer allowed.
As such, the public was advised to complete all transactions related to the registered special numbers before this date to avoid any problems.
Unsold numbers would have to be returned to JPJ, Shaharuddin said.
Compliance a must
The set rule for number plate specifications is they have to be visible from 30m away.
From 2016 to May 2020, JPJ issued 142,441 notices to errant motorists for fanciful number plates that did not follow set specifications by JPJ for font styles, sizes, spacing and plate colour.
Of these notices, 76,451 were compounded.
“Once we receive complaints on fancy numbers, we will call the owner of the registered number to bring their vehicle to us. If the plate is not done according to specification, we will give the owner 14 days to change it. If he fails to do so, we will issue him with a RM300 fine, ” said Shaharuddin.
He added that plate makers were given copies of these specifications by JPJ and that the public must refrain from introducing their own modifications.
“Take for example the number 1164 which is interpreted as ‘INA’. Don’t think of putting a screw of top of the number 1 to turn it into an ‘i’. That is not allowed, ” warned Shaharuddin.
Online bidding process
Since April 15 last year, the work of ascertaining winning bidders has been eased with the online e-bidding system (JPJebid).
Launched in conjunction with the 73rd JPJ Day celebrations, the Putrajaya FC series was the first to use the system.
The system is now used in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Kedah, Penang, Negri Sembilan, Sabah and Johor.
“We used to do this manually.
“The bids were put into a box. It used to take department staff up to two weeks to process them. Now, by the next morning after the closing day of a bid, we will know who the winner is, ” said Shaharuddin.
As there is no human touch involved in the JPJebid system, the question of integrity will no longer be an issue.
“In the past, when people were unsuccessful in their bids, there were allegations that JPJ personnel had fiddled with the numbers, that they were in cahoots with the runners who were selling these numbers at higher prices than the department in the public marketplace.
“With the new system, there is no question of tampering. There is also a limit to the number of winning bids — three for individuals and five for companies, ” said Shaharuddin.
With regard to how the revenue generated from the sale of special numbers is utilised, Shaharuddin explained that the money did not entirely go to JPJ. It is channelled to a consolidated fund under the Finance Ministry. The ministry, in turn, allocates monies for expenses according to a budget submitted by JPJ which is around RM65mil annually.