BEIJING - As its citizens suffer on the brink of starvation, the North Korean government is trying to negotiate the purchase of a huge fleet of Mercedes-Benz cars, worth a total of $20 million.
A Daimler-Benz executive who visited the secretive Communist country in the first half of September was asked by government officials to supply 200 of the latest S-class.
When told there would be a delay of several months because of high demand worldwide for the new car, the officials offered to pay a premium of 5 percent for rapid delivery. 'They wanted the new S-class; they didn't want the old model,' said Eike Lippold, president and CEO of Daimler-Benz Northeast Asia.
The fetish for Mercedes may be inherited from the father of the current leader Kim Il Jong. Kim Il Song, who ruled the country until his death four years ago, was driven around in an S-class.
Lippold estimated there were between 7,000 and 8,000 Mercedes cars of various ages in the country - where most ordinary inhabitants cannot even afford a bicycle. 'They are buying (Mercedes) every year,' he said.
Daimler-Benz supplies between 700 and 800 units of shock absorbers to North Korea every year to keep these cars on the road.