Residents lined up at Emirates Palace for the opportunity to spend hundreds of thousands of dirhams on special licence plate numbers.
Licence plate auction provides a thrill for fans
ABU DHABI // On his first day of university, Khaled Al Shamsi received a new car from his father with the licence plate number 1110.
"It was the year 1999 and I was 17 or 18, I cannot remember. But I remember the day clearly, I was about to go on my first day, then I got this," the businessman from Al Ain said.
Now in his early 30s, Mr Al Shamsi makes sure not to miss a single licence plate auction, so he can purchase the same plate number when it is reissued. He was at Emirates Palace hotel for yesterday's auction.
Half an hour into the auction, Mr Al Shamsi managed to win the latest Abu Dhabi police licence plate number 1110 for Dh120,000.
"I have been coming for three years now, that number has become my lucky number now," he said. "I have all of them, 1110 category 4 - that's the one I got from my dad - 1110 category 5, 1110 category 6. I don't want to bid for any other number. It is the same number as my PO box, same as my mobile number, it is everything."
Within an hour after Mr Al Shamsi had made his bid, more than 100 Emirati men had walked in, examining 75 licence plates that were displayed outside the auction hall.
"With a unique three-digit number, everything changes," said Saeed Al Shamsi, 27, of Al Ain. "You get special treatment, people look at you differently. You are treated like you are something big."
Some Emiratis brought their children to the auction.
"I brought my boys to increase their knowledge of things happening around them," said Abdullah Ali, a government employee.
He was vying for licence number 102. "I have 101," he said proudly. "And of course both numbers will go to my two boys here with me when they are old enough to have cars."
Aware that bringing his children to the auction might encourage them to carry on their father's hobby, he said he hoped that it would not.
"I want them to interact in social activity, and see when you want something and you work hard towards it, you can get it," he said. "But I hope they do not carry on this hobby."
He said the fact that the money collected was going to charity encouraged him to participate.
All proceeds, collected by the Government, will go towards the construction of the Middle East's first rehabilitation centre for victims of car accidents.
Another parent who brought his sons to the auction was a police officer. He did not wish to be named.
"I came many times before," he said. "This time there is a good turnout, there was low turnout before because of the [economic] crisis. But in the UAE there is no fear."
So far, he has managed to buy 50 plates during auctions.
"Some people buy the plates to sell them, but I don't," he said.
This time, he said, he was going for a plate with the number one and zero in it. His 11-year-old son opted for number 11, the smallest licence plate number up for auction last evening.
He also preferred not to mention his bidding price range.
Abdullah Almannaei, the managing director of the Emirates Auction, said that a percentage of participants at the auction were "there for business".
But Mr Al Shamsi, who had won number 1110 earlier, said he also planned to pass on his licence plate numbers to his children.
"They don't need to go to auctions, I already got their plate numbers," he said.