Ellison joins coalition of AGs urging recall of faulty Kia, Hyundai vehicles

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is joining a nationwide call for Kia and Hyundai to recall all vehicles with a defect that makes them prone to theft.

Ellison was one of 17 attorneys general who co-signed a letter from California Attorney General Rob Bonta to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday claiming the vehicle manufacturers have not done enough to fix vehicles without engine immobilizers. The defect is found in Kia and Hyundai models built with key-switch ignitions from 2011 to 2022.

Last year, Ellison’s office launched an investigation into whether the automakers violated Minnesota’s consumer protection and public nuisance laws. In March, Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter wrote to the companies asking them to recall the faulty vehicles and install “missing industry-standard anti-theft technology.

Car thieves’ exploitation of the design flaw, which went viral on social media, has led to an 893% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts in Minneapolis and a 611% increase in St. Paul over the past year. Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara has repeatedly claimed these easily stolen vehicles embolden criminals to commit other offenses.

“These vehicles have been stolen at high rates since approximately 2021, harming consumers and contributing to an erosion of public safety,” Ellison wrote. “The thefts have frequently been accompanied by reckless driving and further criminal activity, causing injuries and deaths.”

The Minnesota Legislature is moving to act as well. Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require all vehicles produced within the last 10 years to have anti-theft devices installed.

Meanwhile, some insurance companies are considering dropping coverage for vulnerable vehicles.

Hyundai spokesman Ira Gabriel said the company has made engine immobilizers standard on vehicles made since November 2021 and “fully rolled out” a free software upgrade two months ahead of schedule. He added that Hyundai has partnered with AAA to connect Hyundai owners with insurers and is beginning to reimburse customers who have bought steering wheel locks.

“Hyundai is committed to continuing our efforts in completing the software upgrade for all affected vehicles in the most effective manner possible,” Gabriel said in a statement. “We are communicating with NHTSA on our many actions to assist our customers.”

Kia spokesman James Bell said the company has contacted more than 2 million car owners about installing a free ant-theft software upgrade; to date, just 165,000 of those have received the upgrade. The company said it has also supplied more than 39,000 steering wheel locks to law enforcement agencies and almost 8,000 locks directly to customers.

“Kia remains very focused on this issue and we continue to take action to address the concerns these Attorneys General have raised,” Bell wrote. “We are committed to working with them and law enforcement agencies across their respective states to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it.”

Ellison rebutted that many car owners will have to wait until June for software upgrades; furthermore, some affected models aren’t eligible for software upgrades at all. He added that the option to get steering wheel locks “places additional burdens on owners and does not address the underlying ignition system flaw that makes the vehicles so vulnerable to theft.”

“Kia and Hyundai have [had] more than enough time to fix this problem voluntarily. It’s now time for the federal government to step in and mandate a recall of these vehicles,” Ellison said in a statement.

Read the full letter to the NHTSA below: