ST. LOUIS — Attorneys General from Illinois and more than 20 other states have written Kia and Hyundai, criticizing the automakers for a lack of speed when it comes to addressing large increases in vehicle thefts spurred by a social media challenge.
A TikTok social media challenge put a spotlight on the vehicles' lack of an immobilizer and resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, according to federal authorities.
Motor vehicle thefts shot up 78% in St. Louis in 2022 with 7,366 reportedly stolen. St. Louis officials pointed to a rise in Hyundai and Kia thefts for the uptick and had threatened legal action to force the manufacturers to issue recalls.
St. Louis County Police told Spectrum News 70 Hyundais and 55 Kias were reportedly stolen in its jurisdiction in 2021. The combined numbers jumped more than 1000% in 2022, with 710 Hyundais and 755 Kias stolen.
Missouri isn't alone. The letter sent to the automakers states Buffalo, N.Y. saw thefts of these two makes "skyrocket" from 400 during all of 2022 to 350 in the first two months of 2023. It also mentions six Hundayi and Kia vehicles were stolen every day in Milwaukee for the first nine months of 2022, and that Minneapolis saw an increase of 836% in thefts of these two makes.
In February, the automakers announced a software release, fully available by June to address the problems and noted that more recent makes and models come with ignition immobilizers as standard equipment.
“Our concerns with the adequacy of the newly-announced measures are informed by your companies’ slow response and lack of acceptance of responsibility for the crisis over the past few years,” the letter from the Attorneys General for California, Illinois, Massachussets, New York, North Carolina and others said Monday.
“The recent announcement of a customer service campaign, including a software upgrade for some affected vehicles, is long overdue and still not enough. First, the announcement states that you will communicate the new measures to customers 'through multiple points of contact,' without committing to provide affirmative notice to all current owners of affected vehicles. Second, as of now, the software upgrade will not be available for most of the affected models until June. Third, you have indicated that the software upgrade cannot be installed on certain 2011-22 models for technical reasons, but you have not identified which models those are, nor have you committed to assisting the owners of those vehicles with free security protection,” it continued.
In a statement, Kia told Spectrum News it has contacted more than 1 million owners and lessees of impacted vehicles about the free fix.
"We are scheduled to contact over 2 million such owners and lessees by the end of March. Dealers who have installed the free upgrade report successful installation takes under an hour to complete, and customer feedback has been positive," Kia said in a statement, adding that it has also provided more than 23,000 steering wheel locks to law enforcement agencies to distribute for free.
A representative for Hyundai did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.