9 months in and 1.5 million cars to go, Kia ‘very confident’ software update ‘will rectify’ years of targeted thefts
The head of corporate communications for Kia America said on Wednesday that an anti-theft software upgrade has been installed in “very close to a million” out of 2.5 million vehicles that need them.
That’s double the number of cars the manufacturer updated as of July.
The latest in the nine-months-long software rollout comes just ahead of a Twin Cities visit by both Kia and Hyundai this weekend, one of several nationwide stops in a tour to provide upgrades for cars that have been regularly targeted by thieves using a method popularized on social media.
“We wanted to come to areas that have been most highly impacted, and for some reason, which we can’t seem to understand, the Midwest and the Northeast have been the real hotspots,” said James Bell, head of corporate communications for Kia America. “And I took Minneapolis and moved it up near the top of the list because I knew from working with yourself, and just the local community, that this has been a tough issue for you.”
Bell said the anti-theft software upgrade “mimics” a piece of hardware called an engine immobilizer that is notably missing from millions of Kia and Hyundai vehicles made roughly between 2011 and 2021.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who continues to call for a recall of these vehicles, has not been convinced. Neither has Mark Kulda, vice president of public affairs with the Insurance Federation of Minnesota.
“The software update is, so far, showing that it doesn’t necessarily work all the time,” Kulda said in a late July interview.
Minnesota drivers who’ve had the anti-theft software installed have still found themselves targets of theft, like Fridley resident Angela Holliday late this summer.
“I was just like, ‘You’re kidding me. Not again,'” she said during an interview at the time.
She and Brooklyn Park single mother Jasmine Curry — whose 2011 Kia was stolen the same day she bought it — say they were given no warning of the theft risk associated with the vehicles before driving them off the lot.
Asked to respond to continued complaints that the software update has not solved the issue at hand, Bell said, “When the software is upgraded into the vehicle — and the vehicle is locked, it works consistently.”
“So I don’t really have an answer to your question,” he continued. “We don’t see that as a national trend. We see isolated cases, but we just don’t know what those situations are.”
In another surprise to Kia and Hyundai drivers this year, major insurance companies have stopped writing policies for certain models. State Farm confirmed to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS at the end of July that it stopped accepting new customers “in some states for certain model years[…]because theft losses for these vehicles have increased dramatically.”
Kulda, at the time, said it was something he’d “never seen an insurance company do.”
“And many companies did that,” he said.
“It’s a business decision they’re making. We find it unfortunate, obviously,” Bell responded on Wednesday.
Kia is “working very closely” with insurers, Bell said, “to really get the word out that this upgrade is out there now.”
He wasn’t aware of whether or not progress has been made in those discussions, because he’s “not the interface with the insurance companies on behalf of the company.”
“These vehicles were on the road successfully for many years until this issue burst,” Bell continued. “So we’re very, very confident that as this software upgrade rolls out, and there’s more and more of a wave of vehicles that are being protected, that the issue will rectify itself.”
Asked if Kia accepts any of the fault for the years-long wave of thefts across the country, Bell said he “couldn’t comment on that.”
“This is a social media-fed crime wave,” he continued before reiterating that even the targeted vehicles meet “all national and standard regulations.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agreed in response to an earlier recall request from Ellison and 17 other state Attorneys General.
Although engine immobilizers are included in the vast majority of vehicles on the market — including Kias and Hyundais since late 2021, following the start of the increase in thefts, NHTSA confirmed that it is not a federal requirement.
Despite NHTSA’s response, Ellison’s civil investigation into the two manufacturers continues.
In a more recent letter in August, Ellison and six other Attorneys General once again urged for a forced recall, this time of the California federal judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit.
Kia is setting up its mobile “service center” at Canterbury Park in Shakopee on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day.
Hyundai, with the Minneapolis Police Department, is scheduled to provide related security upgrades in the parking lot of the former K-Mart building on Lake Street in Minneapolis on Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.
Hyundai will host the same event with the St. Paul Police Department on Sunday and Monday, also from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The upgrades are free to affected customers and the companies say no registration is needed.
Bell says someone will run customers’ VINs on-site to ensure they own a model in need of the upgrade. If you’d like to check for yourself ahead of time, that is an option on Kia’s website.
Steering wheel locks will also be offered to drivers, Bell added.
Minneapolis police and Hyundai officials discuss anti-theft clinics opening this weekend
Minneapolis police and Hyundai officials spoke at a news conference on anti-theft measures for Hyundai vehicle owners Thursday morning. The full news conference can be found at the bottom of this article.