WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) – The city of St. Louis, Missouri, said Monday it is joining several major US cities in suing Korean automakers Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) and Kia Corp (000270.KS) over the not installing anti-theft technology in millions of their vehicles.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Missouri follows similar actions by several U.S. cities to address rising thefts from Hyundai and Kia that use a method popularized on TikTok and other social media outlets. Other cities suing Kia and Hyundai include Cleveland, Ohio; San Diego, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Seattle.
Immobilizers were standard on 96% of U.S. vehicles in 2015, but were standard on only 26% of 2015 model year Hyundai and Kia vehicles, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
“Large corporations like Kia and Hyundai must be held accountable for endangering our residents and putting profit before people,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said.
Kia and Hyundai vehicles account for a large share of stolen cars in multiple U.S. cities, according to data from police and government officials. Many Hyundai and Kia vehicles do not have electronic immobilizers, which prevent break-ins and ignition bypasses.
Last month, the Korean automakers controlled by the same conglomerate said they would offer software upgrades to 8.3 million US vehicles to deter thefts.
TikTok videos showing how to steal Kia and Hyundai cars without push-button ignition and immobilizing anti-theft devices have spread all over the country. This had led to car thefts that resulted in at least 14 reported accidents and eight fatalities in the vehicles of the Korean automakers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in February.
Last week, a group of 22 U.S. attorneys general criticized automakers, saying they needed to do more to address the problems with millions of U.S. vehicles prone to theft.
Kia said Monday that lawsuits by US cities over the thefts are “baseless.” It said it was “willing to work with St. Louis law enforcement agencies to combat auto theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it.” Its vehicles meet U.S. theft protection regulations, it said.
Hyundai said it has taken a number of measures “in response to increasing and continued thefts on our non-push-button ignition vehicles and the immobilization of anti-theft devices in the United States.”
The attorneys general urged automakers to speed up software upgrades and provide free alternative protections to owners whose cars can’t support the software upgrade.
As of May 2022, the St. Louis Police Department has received more than 4,500 reports of thefts from Kia or Hyundai vehicles. Sixty-one percent of stolen vehicles in St. Louis were Kias and Hyundais, St. Louis said.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison launched a civil investigation into Kia and Hyundai vehicles that lacked industry-standard anti-theft technology. He said this month that the thefts of Kias and Hyundais in Minneapolis last year were linked to five homicides and 265 motor vehicle accidents.
All Hyundai vehicles produced since November 2021 are equipped with an immobilizer as standard.
Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington Edited by Matthew Lewis
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