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UAE goes CR4ZY over license plates

  • Story Highlights
  • UAE puts up for auction the mother of all vanity plates: the number "1"
  • Tiny oil-rich nation already holds world record for a plate: $6.75M for number 5
  • Abu Dhabi has held five auctions, selling 300 plates and raising $56 million
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By CNN's Wilf Dinnick
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- You expect a motorist to shell out a little extra cash for a vanity license plate.

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Number 5 fetched $6.75 million, now the UAE is likely to set another record.

But nowhere is the craze for a unique plate more intense than in the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation that holds the world record for the six most expensive plates.

Here, it's all about how low you can go -- with people battling it out at auctions to win the chance to show off license plates with the lowest digit.

The numbers "5" and "7" have already been snapped up, sold for 25 million dirhams ($6.75 million) and 11 million dirhams ($2.97 million) respectively.

Next week, the country will put up for auction the mother of all vanity plates: the number "1." It is expected to immediately set a new record for the most expensive plate in the world.

"As low as the number goes, as high the price goes also," said Abdullah Al Mannaei, who runs the license plate auctions in the capital city, Abu Dhabi.

"If it's a two-digit number, if it's similar like '99' or '22,' that goes (for) a higher amount."

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It's no surprise that license plate craze has such a grip on the United Arab Emirates. The tiny nation, slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Maine, is prone to thinking big.

It is already home to the world's largest mall, the world's largest tower, and -- despite being in the Middle East -- boasts the largest indoor snow park in the world.

Talal Khouri, a stock broker in Abu Dhabi , is the proud owner of "5" and "7." He sheepishly admits that yes, it's a status thing.

The license plate "5" hangs from his shiny red Rolls Royce. An expensive car, but still, 10 times less so than the plate itself.

It's not all ego though. The money that the government raises auctioning off plates goes to a fund that helps victims of car accidents.

Abu Dhabi has held five such auctions, selling 300 plates and raising an astonishing $56 million.

For the business savvy, there's an added attraction: it's a good investment.

"I have a number plate on my car, which was worth 35,000 (dirhams) four years ago," Al Mannaei said. "And I have an offer now for 400,000."

Khouri has his eyes set on snagging the number "1," but he is being practical about how much he is willing to spend.

"Um, I (will) not pay more than, maximum 15 (to) 20," he said.

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Fifteen to 20 million?

"Yes," he said, seriously. "Not more." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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