Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul led a coalition of nearly two dozen attorneys general Monday demanding automakers Kia and Hyundai take further action to halt a nationwide spike in car thefts.
Increases in Kia and Hyundai thefts skyrocketed over the past two years after videos demonstrating how to steal the vehicles with a USB cable and screwdriver circulated on social media. Kia and Hyundai thefts increased nearly 700% in Milwaukee from 2020 to 2021, according to Milwaukee Police Department statistics.
Most vehicle models since 2000 and nearly all models since 2015 have an engine immobilizer that provides extra theft protection, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In comparison, engine immobilizers were standard on just 26% of Hyundai and Kia models from 2015, making them easy targets for theft.
An IIHS analysis from last year found theft claims for Hyundai and Kia models from 2015 to 2019 were twice as common as theft claims for all other manufacturers. Some insurance companies, including Progressive and State Farm, have halted auto coverage for select Hyundai and Kia vehicles due to theft concerns, according to CBS News.
Both carmakers said last month they would offer free software updates and other safety features for 8.3 million U.S. vehicles made between 2011 and 2021 that lack an engine immobilizer, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The updates require a key to be in the ignition switch to start a vehicle and extend vehicle alarm lengths from 30 seconds to one minute.
The carmakers also provided more than 26,000 steering wheel locks to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states since November 2022, according to the NHTSA.
In a letter to top executives from both companies Monday, Kaul and 22 other state attorneys general said Kia and Hyundai’s slow response to vehicle thefts and lack of accountability “undermined public safety.”
The letter claims software updates won’t be available for most affected models until June and that some vehicles cannot support the updates.
“The thefts contribute to an erosion of public safety as they are frequently accompanied by reckless driving and the commission of other crimes, further endangering our communities,” the attorneys general wrote. “While your companies are reported to have taken some steps to address this crisis, it hasn’t been enough, and it hasn’t been done fast enough.”
The letter went on to demand the carmakers accelerate software upgrade implementation and provide free alternative protective measures for owners of vehicles that cannot support the upgrade.
The Madison Common Council voted earlier this month to sue Kia and Hyundai over alleged failure to address the years-long rise in vehicle thefts.
“Madison residents deserve better,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a press release. “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 lawsuit claims carmakers should cover a portion of city costs incurred from responding to and investigating stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles.
A Kia representative told Wisconsin Public Radio the city’s lawsuit was “without merit" and said the company will continue working with city officials to combat car thefts following the council’s vote.
Those who co-signed Kaul’s letter to Kia and Hyundai include state attorneys general from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and Washington. Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection director and the District of Columbia’s attorney general also signed the letter.
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @tk_kutz.