Automotive Number plate Malaysia

Published on July 23rd, 2020 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez


We explain in detail what this number plate means

Some of you may have seen a number plate like this while out on the road and wondered: What is NBOS? And then wondered further as to why are there now so many weird number plates around?

The first question is an easy one to answer. NBOS stands for the National Blue Ocean Strategy program, one of many government-based multi-agency collaboration. And the NBOS series of number plates were sold by auction to improve the civil service sectors. One of these initiatives of NBOS was the implementation of the Urban Transformation Centres (UTC) across Malaysia

Glossing over how the National Blue Ocean Strategy works to improve UTCs nationwide, the bigger question to ask here is why are there so many of these weird vanity plates around these days?

National Blue Ocean Strategy number plate

Many many years ago, the number plate system here used to be very simple. For most states in the peninsula, the format was three letters in the front followed by up to four numbers. The first letter of the plate denoted the state. Penang was P, KL was W, Selangor was B, Kedah was K and so on.

Meanwhile in East Malaysia, the format was two to three letters up front, up to four numbers in the middle and capping it off with one letter out the back. The first letter denoted the state, S for Sabah and Q for Sarawak. The second letter usually denoted the district in the state, for example SS for Sandakan in Sabah and QA for Kuching in Sarawak. Lastly the suffix letter just incrementally climbs up after 9999 plates of the series have been issued.

There were of course some special cases and indeed some vanity plates issued in days gone by. Number plates like Putrajaya or Waja, or even the weirder looking plates like XOIC or XIIINAM were all issued in the past to commemorate major events. Like how the SUKOM series of plates were issued to commemorate the 1998 Commonwealth Games that were held in Kuala Lumpur that year. 

These commemorative plates however are nothing compared to the veritable plethora of weird and/or wonderful vanity plates you can see on the roads today. 

The new tsunami of vanity plates could possibly be traced back to the WWW1 plate that sold for RM 800k to the Sultan of Johor. It was probably then that some cogs in the government’s mind began turning. Thinking that these plates can be sold for a whole lot of cash. 

This strategy of turning vanity plates into cash is not a novel idea of course, the UK and US already sell vanity plates to people who can afford it. Malaysia however, perhaps rightly, decided against having private individuals mess around with the letters and numbers of the plates to spell out different words, as what could be done in the UK or in America, but instead adopted the idea of selling a set series of plates with a special prefix like SMS or PATRIOT by auction. 

On the face of it, these specialised plates are sold as a series from 1 – 9999 or in some cases 1 – 1000 by the government to an NGO, and these NGOs will sell the plates via a third party platform in an effort to raise money for a specific cause. Just as an aside however, these NGOs who are selling these series of plates all seem to have a governmental connection, like how the GG plates are auctioned in the name of the Yayasan Modal Insan Harta. 

Politics aside, these plates did fetch a pretty penny when it first went up for auction by the brokers. And the money raised was presumably distributed to the various causes stated publicly when the plates went up for auction. But then when these plates entered the private market, they were being flipped for even more money than first sold through the bidding process. 

This supposed loss in revenue during the flip on the private market is among the reasons why the government proposed the end of sale of specialised plates in December 2019. In reading the fine print though, it was only for NGO-issued plates like the aforementioned NBOS series or the GTR series of plates, issued by the Pertubuhan Suara Wanita Malaysia of all organisations. 

The vanity plate industry is still very much alive today, just that now the money is going directly into the government’s coffers instead of through an NGO. Vanity plates nowadays like the recently announced SYG series are sold through the government controlled JPJ (Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalanraya) ebid system, instead of going though a third party broker platform like prior commemorative plates. 

UTM number plate

Even public universities are now in on the plate game with commemorative plates like UTM, UUM and UKM all available now. If you are a public institution looking to raise some cash, RM500,000 nets you 9999 commemorative plates to be sold. The best part is that all proceeds will go directly to your institution. The only proviso is that the plates must be sold within 3 years or else returned to JPJ. 

Snide remarks aside, there is nothing inherently wrong with the vanity plate trade. In fact we should actually be actively behind it because judging by the revenue raised through the sales of these special series of plates, it is a fantastic way for the government to raise money without hiking road tax or toll fees, or other insidious ways of taxing the motorist. Living with a few weird number plates on the road does not seem like a small price to pay, as compared to decreased fuel subsidies. 

However, it is getting slightly ridiculous, the number of commemorative plates being seen on the roads today. Discounting the more outlandish ones like PERFECT, there are still series of plates like XX or YY or even US, which supposedly stands for Untuk Seniman that have been sold and can be seen on the roads today. 


Another small niggle is that last time we can’t have O in the plate as to not confuse with zero, 0; or I to not be confused with 1, but apparently this rule does not apply to the vanity plates like NBOS and VIP series. This is not even mentioning the tax loopholes one can utilise through some of these special plates like the fact that G1M can be registered in duty-free zones like Langkawi and Labuan. 

To those still wanting a fancy plate to hide the true age of your car, or to simply just project your immense wealth and sense of good tastes, some plates are still available for your choosing either on the private market or on the JPJ ebid portal.

Research and Text by Joshua Chin

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