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Dream of Taiwan car brand cut short as Yulon chief dies

Kenneth Yen wanted to be more than producer of Nissan cars

Kenneth Yen, front left, pictured in 2004 with Taiwan's then-President Chen Shui-bian. Yen envisioned building a global brand for Yulon Group.   © AP

TAIPEI -- The head of Taiwan's Yulon Group died Monday, leaving behind an unfinished vision of building a global brand of automobiles.

The 54-year-old Yen Kai-tai died of illness, the company said in a statement. The chairman, known as Kenneth, was said to have been battling esophageal cancer after missing the Yulon Motor parent's general shareholders meeting in June.

Yen, the son of late Yulon founder Yen Ching-ling, studied in the U.S. before joining a group company in his 30s, where he spearheaded factory consolidation. He held the post of Yulon chairman for over a decade after being appointed in 2007 at the relatively young age of 42.

Yulon is mainly a contract manufacturer for automakers like Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors. But Yen set his sights on launching a global auto brand out of Taiwan, and the group's Luxgen line of cars fully launched in 2009. Though the brand is now sold in a number of markets, it is still seen as a work in progress.

The strikingly featured executive also stirred conversation by modeling European brand-name suits, and he was known as a fierce supporter of Taiwanese ex-President Ma Ying-jeou, the pro-China predecessor to current President Tsai Ing-wen.

Yen's wife, Yen Chen Li-lien, will take over leadership of the group.

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