Alaska's grizzly bear license plate is off to a roaring start after years of hibernation, with 75 percent of vehicle owners now picking the new design over the conventional gold.
Alaska's Division of Motor Vehicles released the grizzly plates — modeled on a 1976 bicentennial design — on May 7, and since then has issued more than 3,700, the division's director, Amy Erickson, said in an email last week.
Three-quarters of the general-issue license plates distributed by the state since then have been the "standing grizzly" design, she added.
"That's a pretty impressive debut, in our opinion," Erickson said.
The state reintroduced the plates based on a bill the Legislature passed last year.
Former Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, carried the legislation at the request of a Ketchikan constituent, Jerry Cegelske.
Cegelske told lawmakers at a hearing that he drove with a grizzly plate outside the state in the 1980s and was peppered with questions about it.
"The way I look at the Alaskan bear license plate is that this is free advertising for the state," Cegelske said. "When you think of Kansas, you may think of it being the first of the rectangle states. But when you look at Alaska, and especially with the bear license plate, it creates a whole different image of the last frontier."
Efforts to reach Cegelske last week were unsuccessful. But Wilson said in a phone interview that the DMV's numbers were "exciting news."
Wilson was on vacation in Missouri and said she hadn't traded her own plate for the new design yet.
"The second I get back," she added, "I'm going to get one."
The plate's new design is slightly adapted from the original version and features a brown bear standing on its hind legs with a backdrop of mountains and sun. The grizzly's fur was darkened from its 1976 predecessor's because it was often confused for a gopher.
A standard grizzly plate costs $30; drivers with the state's standard yellow design can switch their plates out for just $5.
Chris Racanelli, 34, of Palmer said he ordered a personalized bear plate —HVYFUT, or "heavy foot" — for his new Ford Focus.
"The day that they were officially out and available was the day that I applied," he said in a phone interview. "I'm so tired of the gold ones — I was just looking for something different, something new, something fresh."
A few state lawmakers have also switched over their legislative plates, including Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, who was eagerly showing his to passersby Monday in the Legislature's Anchorage office building.
"These were the plates when I was a kid," Kawasaki said. "Who'da thunk this was one of the greatest ideas ever?"
More than 200 people have ordered personalized grizzly plates, Erickson said, which amounts to 40 percent of all the personalized plates ordered since the design's debut.
The DMV didn't make any projections about the bear plate's popularity, she added — it just assumed it would be more popular than the state's standard designs.
Erickson added, "We were right."