Minnesota Attorney General: Kia, Hyundai ‘clearly negligent’ related to ‘massive increase’ in car thefts

AG Ellison continues investigation into Kia & Hyundai thefts

AG Ellison continues investigation into Kia & Hyundai thefts

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said on Tuesday that a lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai is not off the table over a “massive increase” in car thefts in the state over the last couple of years.

He blames the companies for selling cars that “lacked industry-standard anti-theft technology,” making them possible to steal in less than a minute.

“We’re not letting anyone off the hook here,” Ellison said referring to the people, often juveniles, stealing the cars. “We’re just saying, if the opportunity was not so wide open, then the cases that the officers would have to fix would be fewer in number, and maybe they can concentrate on those.”

In Blaine, hairstylist Angela Holliday shared an all too familiar story standing next to her shiny, white 2017 Hyundai Elantra on Tuesday.

“Four weeks,” she said, emphasizing, “Four weeks to the day of getting it, it was stolen the first time.”

That was last fall. Fast forward to February, and it happened again, costing her nearly $3,000 in repairs after insurance.

She was able to track it down and it was returned to her both times, she said, thanks to her own investment in a GPS tracking device.

“We believe that this is clearly negligent conduct by the company,” Ellison said of the ongoing issue.

In April, he teamed up with 17 other state Attorneys General to write a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requesting the federal agency force a recall of the affected cars.

NHTSA responded in June, saying it “has not determined that this issue constitutes either a safety defect or noncompliance requiring a recall under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.”

“I think they’re wrong,” Ellison said responding to NHTSA’s decision on Tuesday. “And I think that if you have a car that is particularly, unusually vulnerable to theft, and it is causing loss of life, auto theft, draining of police officer resources, I think that is a violation, and I think NHTSA should be doing something about it.”

NHTSA declined an interview and did not address specific questions posed by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. A spokesperson only sent the following statement:

“Generally, matters involving intentional criminal conduct fall under the purview of law enforcement authorities. However, since last year, NHTSA has repeatedly met with Hyundai and Kia to discuss the causes contributing to the theft vulnerability, review the scope of differing software and hardware in the affected models, and receives regular updates on the companies’ action plans. NHTSA will continue to monitor this issue, spread awareness of further updates to local authorities, and lend its expertise in efforts to strengthen motor vehicle safety.”

With or without NHTSA, Ellison said his civil investigation into the two manufacturers is ongoing.

“We feel that there is a case to be made here, that they knew that this was going to cause a problem,” he said referring to Kia and Hyundai leadership. “They did it anyway because it was just cheaper and added to their bottom line by not putting in basic safety equipment.”

Asked if the investigation is intended to lead to a lawsuit, Ellison said, “If that’s where it leads, yeah.”

In response to questions from 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, said they’ve ‘taken action.’

Earlier this year, both companies rolled out a free security software update that they say makes affected cars tougher to steal, a Hyundai spokesperson adding, the company has made engine immobilizers standard “on all vehicles produced as of November 2021.”

Hyundai has updated 15% of roughly 4 million affected cars nationwide, according to a spokesperson.

“Close to 490,000 [Kia] vehicles have been upgraded nationwide” out of over 3 million affected cars, their spokesperson wrote, also totaling a roughly 15-16% rollout.

“But look, we’re not getting the sense that this problem is slowing down in light of these changes,” Ellison said of the software update.

Holliday said her car was one of the first to receive the update, complete with two decal stickers on her car noting the change, which she said may have saved her from another loss this week.

“The night before last, three Hyundai’s were stolen from my parking lot at my apartment building and mine was in between all of them, and untouched,” she added. “And I was the only one with the stickers.”

Looking back to buying the car, Holliday said she picked it for the price. As for the risk of theft, she said, “Nobody warned me. I was totally surprised.”

Asked if there was anything he’s doing, or can do, to force a disclaimer be provided by car dealers, Ellison said, “We certainly hope so,” adding, “But that would have to be done within the litigation, right? And it would certainly be one of the pieces of injunctive relief that we will be demanding.”

“So yeah, that’s on the table,” he continued. “Look, if NHTSA stepped up to the plate, like we think they should, that’s one of the things we would get.”

Neither Kia nor Hyundai directly answered the question of if they’re taking steps to make sure people know the risk of theft and of the free update before buying a car, only referring back to their efforts to notify people who already own an affected vehicle.

Ellison didn’t have a timeline for when the investigation could lead to further action, but said a dedicated team meets regularly, adding, if you’re a Kia or Hyundai owner who’s been a victim of car theft, call his office at 651-296-3353.