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March 19, 2014

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Bidding agents cash in on drive for license plates

TEAMS of tech-savvy individuals are cashing in on the huge demand for vehicle license plates in Shanghai by offering their services as bidding experts.

Many of the agents gather at the offices of the Shanghai International Commodity Auction Co on Fuzhou Road where would-be plate owners go to register for the auctions. The promotional flyers they hand out state that for a fee of between 900 (US$146) and 5,000 yuan they can increase a bidder’s chances of success to as high as 80 percent.

At the latest auction, held on Saturday, just 7,400 of the 62,000 private bidders secured a plate, or about 12 percent.

An agent surnamed Lu told Shanghai Daily that he signed up more than 70 customers for this month’s auction. Of those, five people opted for the 5,000 yuan package.

“All of the 5,000 yuan slots were sold this month, while the 900-yuan option was booked up months ago,” Lu said.

With the most expensive service, each customer has their own “expert” bidder, while for lower-priced options, each bidder represents multiple clients.

Though there is no evidence to support Lu’s 80-percent claim, the agents promote their staff as being highly skilled in the bidding process, with access to state-of-the-art machines and high-speed Internet links.

He also said all of his packages are offered on a no-win, no-fee basis, so no one is being cheated.

According to information provided by an agent who promotes his services via, the refund rate last month was more than 92 percent. That suggests that less than 8 percent of his clients were successful in securing a license plate and had settled their bills.

An independent bidder surnamed Fan told Shanghai Daily that the agents seem to have found a niche market.

“They are making a living from this,” he said. “I think they are probably exaggerating their success rate, but their experience is likely to increase their chances of success.”

Fan said a friend of his had applied for the 3,000 yuan service at Saturday’s auction but didn’t land a plate.

When asked if the agents were breaking the law, an official from the city’s traffic authority said it had no reason to pursue them. The auction platform is fair, but having a good Internet connection will help, he added.

People can also hone their bidding technique by using the simulation program on the auction website, he said.

An official from the industry and commerce authority said while the agents’ advertisements might be considered misleading in terms of their success rates, it is difficult to prove they are breaking any laws. Many of them operate through registered companies, such as car dealerships, and offer license plate bidding as a consultancy service.

Zhang Qiang, a surgeon who has failed to secure a license plate at four previous auctions, said: “I believe the bidding platform is fair, but after several failed attempts, I’m thinking of hiring an agent. He said his lack of success was due to Internet connection problems and difficulties recognizing the verification code needed to submit a bid.

“The bidding website should be better managed, and the verification code is too hard to recognize,” Zhang said.

Authorities said the verification code is designed to be illegible to plug-in programs used by agents.

The successful bidders for the 7,400 plates awarded on Saturday each paid 73,872 yuan. The winners-to-bidders percentage was the lowest since August 2008. It was 16.2 percent last month and 19.3 percent in January.

Traffic authorities have set a target to keep the number of registered cars in central Shanghai below 2.5 million. The total is currently 2.12 million, of which 1.77 million are private vehicles.

In response to soaring bid prices, the government last April introduced a price ceiling mechanism for first-round bids, which in turn affects subsequent offers. As a result, the average winning price fell from 91,898 yuan in March 2013 to 73,492 yuan the following September.


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