The town of Tonawanda has been added to the list of local governments planning to file a lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai for the ongoing issue of their vehicles being stolen.

The town board voted unanimously to file the suit saying the vehicles are easy to steal because of the companies' "deviation from industry norms and failure to install engine immobilizers in a majority of their vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States between 2011 and 2021.” 

"The Town has been experiencing an inordinate number of thefts of Hyundais and Kias," said Town Supervisor Joseph Emminger. "Most significantly, over Memorial Day Weekend, one of our police officers was severely injured and dragged 30 feet by someone who stole a Kia. He is still not back to work. We feel there are damages that should be awarded, and we think it's in the best interests of the residents and taxpayers of the Town of Tonawanda to file this lawsuit." 

According to Emminger, the number of Kia and Hyundai vehicles stolen in the town of Tonawanda has jumped to an alarming rate. He says in 2020, four of these vehicles combined were stolen in the town. So far this year, police say that number has jumped to more than 60.

"We started searching for ways to hold them responsible for this action," said Emminger. "Not only for the loss of his time, but also for the loss of time our detectives have to spend on these thefts due to the increased activity that has occurred over the past four years."

The law firm representing the town of Tonawanda, Keller Rohrback, says word of the vulnerability in these vehicles spread over social media and a "surge of automobile thefts swept across the nation, driven primarily by teens and tweens stealing Kias and Hyundais."

Buffalo, Rochester and New York City are among the local governments that are also suing the companies. The cities of Yonkers, Seattle, Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Diego, Milwaukee and Indianapolis have also filed suit after saying they are experiencing a crime wave of stolen vehicles.

The only statement Spectrum News 1 has received this year was from Kia in January, when a spokesman issued the following:

"Kia remains concerned that criminal actors are targeting certain Kia cars with a steel key and “turn-tostart” ignition systems. While no car can be made completely theft-proof, Kia continues to make steering wheel locks available to customers through interested local law enforcement agencies, subject to available supply, at no cost to concerned owners of these vehicles. Kia also continues its efforts to develop additional solutions for vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer, including the development and testing of enhanced security software designed to restrict operation of the vehicle’s ignition system. Kia has started notifying owners of certain models of the availability of this software upgrade at no cost, and Kia anticipates that it will make software upgrades available for most affected vehicles over the next few months. All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the year or as a running change, and all Kia vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact the Kia Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (Kia).”