The Madison Common Council voted Tuesday to sue carmakers Kia and Hyundai over what the city said is the companies’ failure to install anti-theft technology in their vehicles.
The Common Council passed a resolution to retain outside counsel to file a federal lawsuit against the two companies. The city alleged that Kia and Hyundai didn’t include engine immobilizers in their vehicles, allowing them to be stolen with only a USB cable.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a press release the manufacturers' failure to install anti-theft technology presents a safety hazard to Madison residents.
“Madison residents deserve better,” Rhodes-Conway said. “These corporations cut corners and put people at risk. In their search for profits, they pushed the costs of keeping people safe off to cities like Madison. That’s unacceptable.”
The Council passed the resolution in response to an increase in car thefts last summer, according to Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes.
“We saw an alarming spike in the number of Kia and Hyundai vehicles stolen this past summer,” Barnes said. “We handed out wheel locks, held outreach events and went door-to-door hoping to prevent these thefts. Months later, we are still dealing with this problem.”
The lawsuit claimed the carmakers should cover some of the costs the city accrued responding to and investigating stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles. Rhodes-Conway said the vehicles’ vulnerability has been publicly known, but the manufacturers have not taken sufficient steps to address it.
“The issue was so public early on that there were videos readily accessible online showing people how to steal these vehicles using a USB, yet the manufacturers issued no recall and have only recently offered free upgrades to these vehicle owners,” she said.
Theft of Kia and Hyundai models in Madison increased 270% between 2021 and 2022, according to Stephanie Fryer of the Madison Police Department.
In response, the manufacturers are releasing free software upgrades to increase security.
City Attorney Mike Haas said the lawsuit aims to protect Madison residents from continued damages.
“Fighting for our residents and ensuring public safety are two of our main responsibilities as stewards of this city, and through this action we will continue working to achieve justice for our community,” Haas said.
Madison follows other cities in filing a lawsuit against the carmakers.
In February, the city of Columbus, Ohio filed a federal lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai over the thefts, alleging that the carmakers bear responsibility for failing to provide adequate security measures. Orange County, California filed a class action lawsuit over the thefts in September 2022.
Francesca Pica is the city news editor emeritus for The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple municipal elections and is a leading reporter on Madison labor issues. Additionally, she served as a summer intern for The Capital Times and currently serves as a WisPolitics intern.