Increasingly expensive and hard-to-get license plates in Shanghai are forcing drivers to buy a plate before they get the car.
One such motorist, surnamed Qian, made a successful bid for a plate on Saturday during the municipality's first monthly auction this year.
Qian, who insisted that only her surname be used, said buying the plate first makes sense.
"The first thing I realized is I need a plate before I buy the car. I know it's usually the other way around, but I didn't want the risk. Also, the car, not the plate, is always there in the dealership," said Qian, who spent 75,300 yuan ($12,110) for the plate.
In the seventh consecutive month of record high prices, the cost of a Shanghai car license plate had a record winning bid of 75,000 yuan, the price of an economy family car.
The percentage of motorists with successful bids fell from 51 percent in December to 43 percent in January as 20,857 people bid for only 9,000 car plates, the lowest number in nine months and 300 fewer than last month.
Shanghai Commodity International Auction Co said January's average plate price was 75,332 yuan, almost 6,000 yuan more than last month.
The recently revised traffic rules contributed to January's new record, the insider said.
"Thanks to the new regulations, now customers have peace of mind after they've got the plate - there's a concern that you might be fined if there's no plate on your new car," said Zhou Wenchao, a salesman at a Shanghai car dealership.
Zhou said it seems nothing can stop Shanghai's plate price from setting new records because of the fear and expectation of price hikes in the near future. "For the bidder, the price seems irrelevant now," he said.
Meanwhile, a new regulation introduced to rein in price speculation in July didn't work as well as expected. The rule, which extends the period that motorists must keep a license plate from one year to three years, is expected to deter scalpers from reselling. But the average price of Shanghai's car plate has increased more than 28 percent since the rule was introduced.
"So far, the auto market (including passenger cars and commercial vehicles) has a 4 percent growth. Among them, the growth of passenger cars is about 7 percent, which has reflected a large demand of cars and the car plates," said Feng Shiming, an auto analyst of Menutor Consulting.
In the long run, Feng believes that prices of cars will continue to rise due to the increasing number of passenger cars in coming years.
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