Lee Kun-hee. (Illustration by Park Gee-young)
Despite his age, Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee’s passion for cars seems to die hard.
The 71-year-old tycoon and automobile enthusiast, known for operating a warehouse full of the world’s fastest and priciest vehicles at the Samsung auto museum in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, even has a team of technicians to look after his cars.
Over the past few years, he has hired experts mostly specialized in repairing Mercedes-Benz and Maybach cars. They are mainly mechanics who were hired by Mercedes-Benz Korea and Han Sung Motor, the largest Benz car dealer in Korea that hires and trains some 400 technicians at its 13 service centers nationwide, according to multiple sources.
“These Korean technicians have made a global reputation after winning international mechanic contests,” said an industry source on condition of anonymity. “Lee paid a lot to get them on his team.”
It’s unknown, however, exactly how many technicians were hired and how much they were paid.
Even though the Rolls-Royce Phantom is more often used as his commuting limo in Seoul these days, the Samsung boss’ passion for cars seems still more centered on the brand of the three-pointed star ― the Mercedes-Benz.
(from left) Rolls-Royce Phantom, Maybach 62S
Lee’s pricey hobby became widely known in 2009 when he was spotted driving a Mercedes SL63 AMG roadster on the racetrack at Yongin Everland Speedway, which is owned and operated by Samsung.
A dozen other cars sporting brands such as Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini were spotted parked at the track at the time.
After that, Lee was never again seen sitting behind the wheel, possibly due to more heightened vigilance and his own health problems. But he has continued hinting at his taste for cars with his choice of limos ranging from Maybach to Rolls-Royce.
Maybach is an ultra-luxury sedan brand owned by Daimler. Production has now ceased, and it was largely unfamiliar here before the Maybach 62S started serving as Lee’s commuting ride in recent years.
Further reflecting his enthusiasm for the Benz brand, Lee’s garage is reportedly crammed with high-performance souped-up versions by AMG and Brabus ― the two specialists for turning Benz cars into road rockets.
A foreign CEO who recently visited the so-called “Lee Kun-hee track” said he was greatly impressed by the condition of the facility.
“The racetrack was one of the best I’ve ever visited,” he said, wishing to remain anonymous. “The grass condition along the tracks was perfect. It seemed to mirror the chairman’s passion for cars.”
The chairman’s love of cars is also one of the reasons why there is always speculation that Samsung would once again try its hand in the auto business, which was hinted at a rare investor relation session earlier this year.
In 1995, Samsung teamed up with Japan’s Nissan to roll out the SM5 sedans under the Samsung Motor badge. But, hit hard by the financial crisis in the late 1990s, the company sold off the business to France’s Renault Group.
In recent years, Samsung is expanding its presence into the battery business for electric cars and other car parts.
By Kim Ji-hyun and Lee Ji-yoon