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The Mystery of Steve Jobs' Plateless Car

We were all saddened by the news of Steve Jobs' passing earlier this week. There is no denying the tremendous positive influence he had on the technology and products we use every day. There are many moving tributes to Mr. Jobs in the social media, and I would encourage you to take some time to explore them.

But for now, I'd like to share something about Steve Jobs that you might not know. It's about his car. Since automotive marketing is what we do here at Polk, I thought it was a relevant tidbit to share. Mr. Jobs drove a silver 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG without a license plate.

Jobs' MB

Why? Nobody knows for sure, and multiple theories have been bandied about in Silicon Valley. Some think it's a high-tech vehicle code distortion field or custom-built mechanized plate retractor. Others insist that overzealous fans swipe the roadster's tags every time they're mounted. I even saw one blogger opine it was because the font on California license plates is so ugly. His theory is that Mr. jobs couldn't stand to mar the aesthetics of a beautiful vehicle with the product of some state assemblyman's sense of style. Maybe it's simply because he could get away with it. 

And that brings us to the other aspect to this mystery. How exactly did Steve Jobs drive a plateless car for four years without ever getting ticketed for the infraction? A search of traffic records confirms that he successfully avoided plate-related fines. Again, theories abound, but I think it's just a matter of playing the odds.

The one piece of data that is available about Mr. Jobs' AMG (as on all vehicles) is the VIN. Using this, one ambitious blogger ran a Carfax report to assuage his curiosity. [Full disclosure: Carfax is owned by R. L. Polk & Co.] Here's what he learned:
  • The vehicle was purchased new (no surprise) in 2006.
  • It had approximately 21,800 miles on the odometer as of August, 2011.
That means Steve Jobs drove only 5,500 miles per year, well under the 12,000-mile U.S. average. Why is this important? Because it means that Mr. Jobs did not drive his car very much, which significantly lowered his odds of getting ticketed.

All of this still doesn't answer the most puzzling question of WHY Steve Jobs chose to drive plateless. Less imaginative types like me, chalk it up to a desire for privacy. But in a state where SL55s are a fairly common sight, and no personal information can be gleaned from a license plate number, the best way to remain anonymous would be to keep the plates on.

And this, in the end, is the great paradox of the mystery. Not displaying plates made Steve Jobs' car just as conspicuous and identifiable as a man who, say, always wore jeans, a black turtleneck and New Balance sneakers.

Go figure.

Posted by Paula Skier, Director, Strategy & Planning, Digital Marketing, Polk (10.07.2011)

Comments for The Mystery of Steve Jobs' Plateless Car

Saturday, October 8, 2011 by Sundog
(Wish you had omitted the New Balance bit as I'd no idea, been wearing them for years and will think twice now.)

Was this known to the troops? The Jobs quote along the lines of "it's better to be a pirate than to join the navy" has been widely reproduced but to what extent was the pirate character inhabited by the latter-day Jobs, was this remark a one-off or something he attempted to institutionalize at 21st century Apple?

Cheers for passing along this nugget.
Saturday, October 8, 2011 by Fred
In ca it's my understanding a plate # goes with a car till it is destroyed even if it has several owners over a period of time. In my state u can change tags as often as u wish. Since he was SJ, he probably carried them in his trunk as people would
steal them off his car if given the opportunity.
Saturday, October 8, 2011 by Brian P
There is a California law allowing certain people to drive without a license plate on their car. It is a privacy law for celebrities. They have to apply for a permit. Mr. Jobs applied for and received one of these permits several years ago.
Sunday, October 9, 2011 by JC
Seems to me that if it was about aesthetics, he would have taken the dealer licence plate frame off. Just saying.
Monday, October 10, 2011 by Chris Devers
Jobs did this all his adult life, as far as I can tell. The people that worked with him back in the early days of Apple say that not only did he not use his license plates back then either, but he also habitually parked in the handicapped spaces at the front door:
Monday, October 10, 2011 by Nadir
Good explanation by Paula
Wednesday, November 2, 2011 by William Smythson
The Steve Jobs interview on 60 Minutes was interesting, but the book by Walter Isaacson is even better. It gives a deeper, richer view of Jobs. The book reveals the private world of a very private person. I was surprised by his relatively normal lifestyle, and family life. This eccentric genius, cared so much more for creating his vision of the future, and not so much for wealth and fame. I found this really interesting.
I am listening to the audio version and it is excellent. I got mine from (the cheapest) ...but it also is on iTunes. . . There is also , a great one hour interview with Jobs on It is worth seeing.

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