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US cities sue Kia, Hyundai over rising car thefts

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-04-14 11:12

A KIA logo is seen during the New York International Auto Show, in Manhattan, New York City, US, April 5, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Several US cities have sued automakers Kia Corp and Hyundai Motor after thieves in America were easily able to steal the cars, go on joyrides and wreak havoc by damaging local areas along with wasting police time.

Hyundai, based in Seoul, owns approximately a third of Kia. That has led the US cities of St. Louis, Cleveland San Diego, Milwaukee, Seattle and Columbus, Ohio, to file the lawsuits.

The lawsuit filed in Columbus in February states: "The security system for these cars is so substandard that it can be exploited by a middle-schooler."

The suits allege that the automakers have failed to install adequate anti-theft technology in the cars. A cost-cutting decision, the lawsuits allege, made it easier for thieves to steal the cars. The cars don't have immobilizers, which work only if the driver has the correct key.

Until 2015, immobilizers were standard on 96 percent of all American vehicles. But they were on just 26 percent of 2015 model year Hyundai and Kia vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Highway Loss Data Institute.

All models of Hyundai cars produced since November 2021 now have immobilizers.

Videos that show how to steal the cars — using just a USB charger and screwdriver — have been posted to social media sites TikTok and YouTube. The sites said that they had removed the videos. Police found that teenagers have been the main suspects in the car thefts.

The thieves mainly target cars with an ignition that can be started with just a key. St. Louis police said at least 61 percent of vehicles stolen in that city have been Kias and Hyundais. Police said they have dealt with 4,500 reports of thefts of the cars since May 2022.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones told Reuters: "Big corporations like Kia and Hyundai must be held accountable for endangering our residents and putting profit over people."

Kia hit back against the lawsuits saying that they "are without merit". It added that it was "willing to work cooperatively with law enforcement agencies in St. Louis to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it".

Hyundai added in a statement that it had taken several actions "in response to increasing and persistent thefts targeting our vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the United States". It added that the cars met safety requirements outlined by federal law.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that the number of cars that have been affected by the wave of thefts includes 3.8 million Hyundais made between 2016 and 2021, and 4.5 million Kias made between 2011 and 20.

The NHTSA also found that there have been at least 14 deaths in connection with the thefts since February.

In March, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said that last year, thefts of Kias and Hyundais in Minneapolis were connected to five murders and 265 vehicle accidents.

Ellison launched a civil investigation into the automaker's vehicles that don't have anti-theft technology.

The suits don't outline how much the cities are seeking in compensation.

In March, 22 state attorneys general sent the automakers a strongly worded letter, asking them to rectify the issue quickly.

"Alarmingly high rates of theft of these vehicles have been sustained over a long period of time," the letter said. "Your consumers continue to be harmed as a result, and worse yet, the thefts contribute to an erosion of public safety. While your companies are reported to have taken some steps to address this crisis, it hasn't been enough, and it hasn't been done fast enough."

Last year, to address the theft problem, the automakers sent steering wheel locks to US police departments for drivers of the cars.

Both Kia and Hyundai created software that could be used in some of the cars if installed by a car dealership. Yet, it does not work in all the cars.

The Korean automakers said recently that they would offer software upgrades to 8.3 million US vehicles to stop the thefts.

In February 2022, Hyundai and Kia faced more legal trouble after they were sued by drivers who claimed a defect in their vehicles' anti-lock brake systems could trigger fires, Reuters reported.

The class action suit was filed in federal court in Santa Ana, California, after the automakers' Feb 8 recall of nearly 485,000 Hyundai Santa Fe, Hyundai Tucson, Kia K900 and Kia Sportage vehicles from model years 2014 through 2019.

Agencies contributed to this story.


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