WASHINGTON: The city of St Louis, Missouri, says it is joining a number of major US cities that are suing South Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Corp for failing to install anti-theft technology in millions of their vehicles.
The lawsuit filed in US District Court in Missouri follows similar actions taken by several US cities to address increasing Hyundai and Kia thefts that use a method popularised on TikTok and other social media channels.
Other cities suing Kia and Hyundai include Cleveland in Ohio, San Diego in California, Milwaukee in Wisconsin, Columbus in Ohio and Seattle.
Immobilisers were standard on 96% of US vehicles by 2015 but were standard on only 26% of 2015 model-year Hyundai and Kia vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute.
“Big corporations like Kia and Hyundai must be held accountable for endangering our residents and putting profit over people,” said St Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.
Kia and Hyundai vehicles represent a large share of stolen cars in multiple US cities, according to data from police and state officials.
Many Hyundai and Kia vehicles have no electronic immobilisers, which prevent break-ins and bypass the ignition.
Last month, the South Korean automakers controlled by the same conglomerate said they would offer software upgrades to 8.3 million US vehicles to help curb thefts.
TikTok videos that show how to steal Kia and Hyundai cars without push-button ignitions and immobilising anti-theft devices have spread nationwide.
This had led to car thefts that resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities in the vehicles of South Korean automakers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in February.
Last week, a group of 22 US state attorneys general criticised the automakers, saying they needed to do more to address problems with millions of US vehicles that are prone to theft.
Kia said on Monday that lawsuits by US cities over the thefts “are without merit.”
It said 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.”
Its vehicles comply with US theft protection regulations, it said.
Hyundai said it has taken a number of actions “in response to increasing and persistent thefts targeting our vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilising anti-theft devices in the United States”.
The attorneys general urged the automakers to accelerate software upgrades and provide free alternative protective measures for owners whose cars could not support the upgrade.
Since May 2022, St Louis police have received more than 4,500 reports of thefts of Kia or Hyundai vehicles. Of this figure, 61% were Kias and Hyundais, the city 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 last year, thefts of Kias and Hyundais in Minneapolis were tied to five homicides and 265 motor vehicle accidents.
All Hyundai vehicles produced since November 2021 are equipped with an engine immobiliser as standard equipment. — Reuters