In China, the License Plates Can Cost More Than the Car

The high cost of registering a vehicle favors affluent buyers of foreign models
ImagineChina(2)

Shanghai’s busy streets teem with Buicks, Fords, Volkswagens, and Toyotas. More than 9 out of 10 cars in the world’s most populous city are made by foreign companies, and it’s not just a reflection of mainlanders’ preference for Western design. Some local automakers say the city’s license plate auctions are responsible for their weak sales. Shanghai is one of four Chinese cities that limit car purchases by imposing quotas on registrations. The prices paid at Shanghai’s license auctions in recent months—90,000 yuan ($14,530)—have exceeded the cost of many entry-level cars, the stronghold of Chinese brands such as Chery, Geely, and Great Wall. While residents with modest incomes may be able to afford an inexpensive car, the registration cost is often beyond their reach. “Whenever there’s a restriction of new car purchases through the quota system, there is always a big impact on lower-price cars like the ones we make,” says Lawrence Ang, executive director of Geely Automobile Holdings, whose Panda minicar sells for 37,800 yuan.

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