SEOUL - The efforts of Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-Yung to open trade ties with North Korea are rekindling speculation about an auto plant in the reclusive communist nation.
North Korea recently accepted a gift of 20 Hyundai cars from the octogenarian Chung, the first South Korean-made automobiles ever to be admitted into North Korea, along with 501 head of cattle.
The cattle were driven Old West style across the demilitarized zone that marks the North-South border.
The fleet of gift cars includes five Dynasty luxury models that Hyundai hopes will be used by North Korean President and 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-Il.
North Korea came under heavy international criticism recently for placing a $20 million order for 200 Mercedes-Benz S-class sedans and offering to pay a premium for fast delivery. The order sparked outrage because North Korea has been gripped by a famine for more than two years and has been accepting free international food aid to feed its people.
It is not known whether Mercedes accepted the order.
A Hyundai spokesman said the company is ready to supply more luxury cars if the North should request them.
Although no Hyundai Motor Co. executives are accompanying Chung on this trip, his younger brother, Hyundai Motor Honorary Chairman Chung Se-Yung, joined him on a visit to North Korea in September.
That visit sparked speculation that Hyundai has an offer on the table to invest in a North Korea car-assembly project. Hyundai spokesmen downplayed the reports, characterizing them as 'premature.'
Chung has made several trips to North Korea over the years on a personal crusade to expand ties between North and South.
His efforts have begun to pay off. Hyundai has been granted a contract to conduct tour services from South Korea to North Korea's Mount Kumkang, a scenic landmark.
The North is entertaining a bid from Hyundai to develop Mount Kumkang into an international resort destination.