Chicago is suing Kia and Hyundai, contending that a lack of immobilizers in the auto manufacturers’ vehicles helped cause a spike in thefts, city officials said Thursday.
The lawsuit, which also targets the companies’ U.S. branches, contends that other automakers made vehicle immobilizers, which prevent the improper starting of a car engine, standard in their models years ago — and that the lack of such systems in Kia and Hyundai vehicles from 2011-2022 was a “critical defect” violating city consumer protection laws.
City officials say the publicly known lack of the anti-theft technology resulted in “a steep rise in vehicle thefts, reckless driving, property damage and a wide array of related violent crimes in Chicago.”
In particular, basic models that still used key-driven ignition instead of push-button ignition were targeted by thieves.
Chicago is not the only city to sue the two companies over the issue. A multi-jurisdictional class-action lawsuit is continuing after Judge James Selna in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California declined to approve a $200 million settlement last week, according to the Associated Press.
The missing anti-theft devices became public knowledge through social media, including the Kia challenge on TikTok. Those videos show people taking off the drive column underneath the tire and starting the ignition using the ends of USB cords. Other videos showed people doing stunts and driving recklessly in the stolen cars.
About 500 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were stolen in Chicago in the first half of 2022, a number that ballooned to more than 8,350 in the second half of the year, city officials said.
Chicago has seen more than 19,000 vehicles stolen in 2023, according to Automotive News. City officials said Kia and Hyundai cars have constituted more than half of all vehicles stolen in Chicago this year.
Chicago authorities also said stolen Kias and Hyundais have been used in a significant number of violent crimes.
“The impact of car theft on Chicago residents can be deeply destabilizing, particularly for low- to middle-income workers who have fewer options for getting to work and taking care of their families. The failure of Kia and Hyundai to install basic auto-theft prevention technology in these models is sheer negligence,” Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement.
The companies disagree.
Kia spokesperson James Bell told the Chicago Sun-Times that the suit is “without merit” and that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined that the issue did not constitute a safety defect or violation of federal standards.
Hyundai spokesperson Ira Gabriel told the Sun-Times that “Hyundai is committed to the comprehensive actions we are undertaking to assist customers and communities affected by the persistent theft of certain vehicles not equipped with push-button ignitions and engine immobilizers.”