Ellison: Minnesota AG’s office investigating Kia, Hyundai over vehicle thefts

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The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office is launching an investigation into two major automobile manufacturers amid a wave of vehicle thefts.

Tuesday afternoon, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said the office’s civil investigation into Kia and Hyundai will look to see if the companies violated the state’s consumer protection and public nuisance laws by failing to equip their vehicles with standard anti-theft technology.

“Kia and Hyundai vehicles might as well have a giant bumper sticker that says ‘steal me’ on them because thieves know that these vehicles are not equipped with standard anti-theft technology, which makes them easy to steal,” Ellison said at a press conference.

Ellison’s announcement came less than a week after he, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter sent a 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.

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

Ellison said Tuesday that the companies responded to their letter but called the response “more misdirection and denial.”

“This is a public safety issue, not just a consumer issue,” Ellison said.

If the office finds enough evidence of a violation, it could file a lawsuit against the companies.

The announcement also comes just a day after state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require anti-theft devices in vehicles made after Jan. 1, 2013.

RELATED: Lawmakers pitch bill to require anti-theft devices in cars made since 2013

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.

In their letter last week, Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said “a more robust and timely improvement plan” is needed, with immediate recalls.

Last year, officials say 2,340 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were stolen in Minneapolis while another 953 were stolen in St. Paul. Minneapolis says those vehicles have since been tied to five homicides, 13 shootings, 36 robberies and 265 vehicle crashes.

St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry noted the rate of Kia and Hyundai thefts amounts to more than three vehicle thefts per day just in St. Paul for the two brands.

“These things are important to our community and I ask you, if we knew we were having 20 of these a week, three a day just in St. Paul — that’s not even factoring in Minneapolis’ number — wouldn’t we do everything we could to make that safer for everyone else? We would never in any other category ignore this and we certainly wouldn’t insult this process and the people who suffer from it by attaching a price tag to it,” Henry said.

Ellison urged anyone affected by the Kia and Hyundai thefts to call his office at 651-296-3353 or file a complaint online.

Hyundai sent the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in response to the announcement:

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.

Hyundai spokesperson

Kia provided the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

“Kia remains very focused on this issue and we reiterate our commitment to working with law enforcement agencies at the state and local level in Minnesota to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it. To address these crimes, we continue to roll out a free, enhanced security software upgrade to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems and we are also providing steering wheel locks for impacted owners at no cost through local law enforcement agencies. To date, Kia has already contacted over 1 million owners and lessees of Kia vehicles to let them know of the availability of the software upgrade and to advise them to schedule a free installation at any Kia dealer. We have also shipped or are in the process of shipping over 23,000 free steering wheel locks to over 120 law enforcement agencies across the country, including nearly 300 to police departments in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region as requested, and we will continue to provide supplies of those locks as they are needed.

“All Kia vehicles, including these models, are subject to and comply fully with rigorous testing rules and regulations outlined in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, including under FMVSS 114 that governs ignition security systems and theft protection. Additionally, because there is no defect in the security features in any of these vehicles and because all Kia vehicles, including these models, comply fully with all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, a recall is neither appropriate nor necessary under federal law.

“Kia owners should contact our Customer Care team directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia) or online via the Owners Portal on kia.com for more information on their eligibility for the upgrade or to learn more about obtaining a steering wheel lock.”