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From retro to high-tech, Michigan drivers snap up new license plate options

license plate
Half a century after Water-Winter Wonderland plates were on the back of almost every car in Michigan, they’re back as a new/old option for drivers. (Bridge courtesy photo)

In April, Holland resident Michael Alan took the standard blue and white “Pure Michigan” license plate off of his Toyota RAV4’s back bumper and swapped it for a new, maize and blue “Water-Winter Wonderland” plate.

Water-Winter Wonderland plates were issued to all Michigan drivers between 1965 and 1968, but they made a comeback after a 54-year hiatus as a “new/old” design option for motorists six months ago. Now Alan said he sees them everywhere.


Alan suggested that the plate has the unique quality of being simultaneously fresh and nostalgic.


“I just think they are cool looking compared to the boring Pure Michigan plates, and I love our Water-Winter Wonderland,” he said. “I sort of keep my eyes out at garage sales for old Michigan plates. The new ones are a throwback to 1965.”

The Water-Winter Wonderland plate is not the only new license plate turning heads in Michigan this summer. Digital license plates also officially entered Michigan markets this month, offering users various customizable features and the capability of marking a vehicle as “stolen” with the click of a button.

Besides the standard blue-and-white “Pure Michigan” plate, there are 43 different plate design options for Michigan drivers which feature a variety of state universities, non-profit organizations and American veterans. The Water-Winter Wonderland plate is already making a splash.

The Secretary of State office told Bridge Michigan that in the six months since the plate’s re-release, over 227,000 of the “old/new” specialty plates have already been purchased by Michiganders and are out on the roads.

Comparatively, when the Mackinac Bridge plate, another specialty plate, was released in 2013, just over 88,400 individuals chose that plate over the standard option in the first six months. All three standard plate options – the Water-Winter Wonderland, Mackinac Bridge and Pure Michigan plates – cost  the same: a $5 graphics fee.

So why is the alliterative throwback plate suddenly so popular?

According to Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State, the high sales numbers since the plate’s release suggests other drivers are choosing the Water-Winter Wonderland plate over the standard for the same reasons as Alan. Out of the 73 standard license plate designs that have been issued to Michigan drivers since 1910, Wimmer said this particular historic plate has long been a favorite among license plate collectors.

The plate made its debut in 1965 as the standard plate option – what the “Pure Michigan” plate is for drivers today – and the “Water-Winter Wonderland” tagline remained on the standard plate until 1968. The maize and blue color combination was intended to commemorate the University of Michigan’s sesquicentennial, or 150 year, anniversary, which took place in 1967.

“The Water-Winter Wonderland plates were a collector favorite for years, and the number that have been sold and are seen on cars around the state speaks both to their historical significance and the enduring popularity of their retro look,” Wimmer said. 

Also hitting the Michigan roads for the first time this month are a new, high-tech license plate.

In 2019, Michigan became the first state to pass legislation approving the implementation of digital license plates. However, Michigan lacked digital plate vendors until now. 

Last week, high-tech digital license plate company Reviver officially started offering its products to registered Michigan drivers, making Michigan the third state — behind California and Arizona — where digital license plates are now being used out on the open roads.

Digital license plate
Digital license plate company Reviver has started selling RPlates at certain auto dealerships throughout the state. (Bridge courtesy photo)

Neville Boston, Reviver co-founder, wrote in an email to Bridge Michigan that the company has already sold about 2,000 plates in the state. The plate is designed to work with any vehicle make and model.

“RPlate users tell us they love the plate for a variety of reasons,” Boston wrote. “Some appreciate the convenience of renewing their registration with two clicks through a mobile app. Some appreciate the visibility of the integrated GPS features. Many are car lovers in general and appreciate the visual personalization and how the RPlate can enhance the aesthetic of their vehicle. 

The Californian-based company currently offers two types of RPlates: a battery-powered one that can be self-installed and a hard-wired option that must be professionally installed on the back of the car. Both RPlates feature a digital screen that displays the license plate number along with a customizable banner message.

Though the plates are still registered through the Secretary of State, the license plate can be easily renewed and tracked through Revier’s app. If the car is reported stolen the owner can click on the app on their phone, and the word “stolen” will be displayed on the digital plate to help law enforcement identify the vehicle.


Michigan drivers can now purchase the digital plates online and through certain auto dealerships throughout the state for about $20 monthly or a $215.40 annual fee. None of the additional cost consumers pay for the digital plate goes to the Secretary of State. 

Howard Wickings, finance director at Feldman Chevrolet of New Hudson in Lyon Township, said his dealership is not currently selling RPlates, but he just ordered one to put on his own Chevy Silverado 3500 truck for the next four years. Though he has not received the plate yet, he said his co-workers have been talking about the advantages of digital plates so he felt encouraged to try it out and see if RPlates really do have a place in the future of the automotive industry.

“I like the whole idea,” Wickings said. “My co-worker got me onto the Reviver website and it just looks really cool. Knowing that we’re only the third state that’s doing [digital license plates], I thought it would be cool to jump on it.”

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