AG Ellison, Twin Cities mayors urge Kia, Hyundai to issue recall amid thefts

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Minnesota’s attorney general and the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul are calling on two automobile companies to issue a recall amid a wave of vehicle thefts.

Thursday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter sent a joint letter to the North American CEOs of Kia and Hyundai, calling on them to recall and outfit their vehicles with better anti-theft technology to help stem the tide of vehicle thefts.

It’s a problem that’s plagued owners of these two brands of vehicles across the country and in the Twin Cities metro area dating back to last year after a TikTok challenge exposed a defect in ignition-start vehicles and encouraged people to steal them.

Minneapolis police and other departments started issuing warnings last summer, noting the rise of vehicle thefts. Before the end of July 2022, Minneapolis reported more than 3,000 stolen vehicles in the city, a sharp increase over past years.

City data showed that more than 1,000 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were stolen in Minneapolis in just the first eight months of last year. In the same timeframe a year earlier, just 277 Kias and Hyundais were stolen in the city.

In total, 2,340 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were stolen in Minneapolis in 2022, the city reports, including 132 people who had their vehicle stolen twice and five owners who had their vehicle stolen three times.

Overall, Kia and Hyundai thefts rose 836% in Minneapolis from 2021 to 2022, the city says, and accounted for more than one-third (37%) of all vehicle thefts in the city last year.

RELATED: MPD sounds alarm on Kia, Hyundai thefts after crash involving stolen vehicle

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara also sounded the alarm on Kia and Hyundai thefts in the city in December, just a month after he was sworn into his role, calling it an “epidemic.”

“The ease and sheer volume with which these Kia and Hyundais were stolen creates too many opportunities for both crime and tragedy,” O’Hara said in a statement Thursday. “These vehicle thefts have endangered the lives of innocent people of all ages in all corners of Minneapolis. These vehicles are used to facilitate more serious crime and harm in our communities. And children not even old enough to have a learners’ permit have died while behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle. This epidemic needs to be addressed by both car owners and the manufacturers.”

St. Paul reported the same issue. Through August 2022, a total of 622 Kias and Hyundais were stolen in the city compared to 79 during the same timeframe in 2021. Overall, the city reported a 611% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts with 953 vehicles stolen in 2022 compared to a year prior. Kia and Hyundai thefts accounted for just shy of one-third (30%) of all vehicle thefts in the city last year.

St. Paul also said at least 66 residents had their vehicle stolen more than once and six people had theirs stolen three times.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Chief O’Hara if he felt the letter was passing the blame for the large spike in car thefts and carjackings onto the car manufacturers.

“This is not passing the buck,” he said. “The manufacturers are aware that this is creating an unnecessary risk. And again, this is a problem that had been fixed by auto manufacturers around the world decades ago.”

He also agrees solutions fall with more than just the car makers.

“We need better accountability over these young people. We can’t have situation where the cops are taking them in over and over and over again,” O’Hara said.

For at least one Hyundai driver, Danette McCulley, she’s grateful the issue is getting addressed.

“I love my Hyundai, except for the fact that [it] could be stolen from a parking lot apparently,” McCulley said. “Thank you Mayor Frey and Mayor [Carter] and the Attorney General – [somebody] needs to step in and do something,” she added.

RELATED: Hyundai, Kia update security after TikTok challenge thefts

Last month, the auto companies announced that they were starting to roll out software updates to help stem the wave of thefts, although not all models aren’t expected to be eligible for the updates until this summer. The companies say the updates extend the car alarm sound from 30 seconds to a minute and require a key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicles on.

However, while Ellison, Frey and Carter called that a step in the right direction, they said Thursday that “a more robust and timely improvement plan is essential” and recalls are needed immediately.

They also noted that it’s not just the fact that vehicles are being stolen that is problematic but also that many of the thefts have been connected to other violent crimes.

In Minneapolis alone, Kias and Hyundais stolen in the past year have so far been tied to five homicides, 13 shootings, 36 robberies and 265 vehicle crashes, the city says.

“As the chief legal officer of the State of Minnesota, this issue has my full attention,” Ellison said. “The harm caused by these companies goes far beyond car theft and has had a negative impact on everyone’s safety. We will continue using the power of the Attorney General’s Office to address this problem and use all the tools of the law to help keep Minnesotans safe.”

“The number of crimes committed in connection to stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles are staggering – and we’ve lost lives in our community as a result,” Carter added. “This is an urgent public safety risk that must be immediately addressed.”

Frey, meanwhile, said the thefts are entirely preventable and can be stopped if Kia and Hyundai simply had industry-standard anti-theft technology in their vehicles.

“This crime is preventable and has a clear solution. The type of car you have should not make you an automatic target of heinous violence and random crimes,” Frey said. “There is an onus on these car companies to do the bare minimum here, which is including the industry-standard anti-theft software. Thank you to Mayor Carter and Attorney General Ellison for their collaboration on this — we all want to keep residents throughout the Twin Cities safe.”

“Our community members depend on their vehicles to provide for their families. Whether that’s going to work, purchasing groceries, or taking their children various places. Losing their vehicle in a matter of minutes could set them back months, even years,” St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry added. “Not only does it impact them and their everyday lives, but it also hinders their sense of security. Many times, these stolen vehicles are being used in violent crimes around our city, against our own community members. It’s important to us to stop these crimes from occurring. They don’t just directly impact the owners, they directly impact our entire community.”

In response to the joint letter, a Hyundai spokesperson sent the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

“Hyundai is committed to the security of our customers and plans to continue our ongoing support of the communities affected by this theft issue. We appreciate and share Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s interest in addressing the rise in thefts of these vehicles in Minnesota and elsewhere. We recently announced the launch of a free software upgrade to prevent the theft mode popularized on social media; we will also soon launch a program to reimburse eligible customers for their purchase of steering wheel locks.”

A spokesperson from Kia sent the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

“Kia has been releasing enhanced security software to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems on certain models not equipped with an immobilizer. Kia is notifying eligible owners by mail when the software is available for their vehicles and instructing them to bring their vehicle to the nearest Kia dealership for the free upgrade, which takes under an hour to install. Many owners have already been to their dealer to receive the software upgrade and it will be available for owners of additional affected vehicles over the next few months.”

Read the joint letter from Ellison, Frey and Carter below or by clicking here.