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AG Kaul, Milwaukee leaders demand action from Kia/Hyundai to address thefts: 'They've been that easy to steal'

The two manufacturers are the two most commonly stolen car brands in Milwaukee and other cities in the U.S.
josh kaul
Posted at 1:13 PM, Mar 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-20 18:24:28-04

MILWAUKEE — City and state leaders are demanding action from automakers Kia and Hyundai in response to Milwaukee’s car theft crisis.

"We are calling on Kia and Hyundai to take the responsible steps,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

A.G. Kaul stood alongside Milwaukee leaders on Monday to say he’s fed up with Kia and Hyundai thefts and he believes both companies have failed to accept responsibility for the problem.

That’s why A.G. Kaul said he’s leading a coalition of attorneys general representing 23 states who are sending a joint letter to Kia and Hyundai to request the automakers take swift action to remedy a lack of anti-theft devices in many of their cars.

23 state attorneys general send letter to Kia and Hyundai.png

“Why send a letter and not file a lawsuit?” TMJ4 reporter Ben Jordan asked.

“I’m not going to comment on any potential legal action that may happen,” A.G. Kaul replied. “When you have A.G.’s come together across states, that often can send a very strong signal when there's an outreach to companies like Kia and Hyundai."

While A.G. Kaul says he isn’t ready to file a lawsuit against the two companies on the state’s behalf, Common Council President Jose Perez says Milwaukee plans to take a critical step on Tuesday in order to sue. Perez says he expects Common Council members to pass a resolution authorizing Milwaukee’s city attorney to file a lawsuit.

“What are you looking to recoup in these lawsuits? Is it the amount of hours spend by the police department? Is it for the victims themselves?” Jordan asked.

"All of the above,” Perez replied. “Anything that will make our constituents as whole as possible and recoup any services and resources spent on stolen cars related to Kia and Hyundai for the fact that they've been that easy to steal."

Milwaukee police data shows more than half of all vehicles stolen in the past three years were Kias and Hyundais.

More than half of all cars stolen in Milwaukee since 2021 were Kias and Hyundais.png

Kia owner Tammy Bartley of Milwaukee says she’s tired of worrying her car will be stolen every time she leaves her garage.

"Imagine how you would feel if you go to work, school, etcetera and hope that you still have a car when you come outside,” she said. “This is not a way for anyone to live."

Kia and Hyundai responded to TMJ4’s request for comment.

Kia’s statement reads in part:

“To be clear, Kia began testing and developing a free software upgrade to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems months ago,” said a Kia America spokesperson. “In addition to this upgrade, we have already provided more than 23,000 steering wheel locks to over 120 law enforcement agencies across the country for them to distribute - at no cost - to impacted owners.”

Hyundai’s statement reads in part:

“We recently announced the launch of a free software upgrade to prevent the theft mode popularized on social media,” said a Hyundai USA spokesperson. “We have also initiated a program to begin reimbursement to eligible customers for their purchase of steering wheel locks.”

Bartley thinks those efforts are too little and too late.

"It's much more than a software upgrade, what about the people that still don't have cars?” she said.

She’s hopeful the two different paths the city and state are taking help put this issue to an end.

Attorneys General from 23 states including WI issue letter to Kia, Hyundai

By Jackson Danbeck, March 20, 2023

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul says he will be leading a coalition of 23 attorneys general across the country to urge the leaders of Kia and Hyundai to do more to stop rampant thefts of some vulnerable models.

According to the letter signed by the AGs and addressed to legal officers of the two companies, "We write regarding the ongoing crisis of thefts of Hyundai and Kia model automobiles not equipped with anti-theft immobilizers. The recent announcement1 of a customer service campaign – not a recall – which combines warning stickers, longer alarms and a software upgrade, is positive news but less than is called for under the circumstances. Our concerns with the adequacy of the newly-announced measures are informed by your companies’ slow response and lack of acceptance of responsibility for the crisis over the past few years."

Kaul's office notes that the makers of Kia and Hyundai decided to not include anti-theft immobilizers as standard equipment on several models sold in the U.S. Officials say the companies made this decision at a time when other major manufacturers were including anti-theft immobilizers on all models and as Kia and Hyundai themselves were using the immobilizers on different models of vehicles.

The AGs called a recent effort from Kia and Hyundai a "customer service campaign" and said it is long overdue and not enough. The AGs instead urge the companies to do everything in their power to improve the situation for owners of these vulnerable vehicles, including accelerating the implementation of a software update (to improve security) and providing free alternative protective measures.

"Your companies’ decisions not to install anti-theft immobilizers as standard equipment on certain vehicles sold in the United States has caused ongoing consumer harm and undermined public safety in communities across the country. It is well past time that you acknowledge your companies’ role and take swift and comprehensive action to remedy it," according to the letter.

In signing the letter, Kaul is joined by his counterparts in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, along with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.

Read the AGs' letter here.

Milwaukee 'poised and ready' to sue Kia and Hyundai over car theft issues

Milwaukee suing Kia, Hyundai

By Ryan Jenkins, Mar 10, 2023

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee City Attorney Tearman Spencer said his office is "poised and ready" to file a lawsuit against automakers Kia and Hyundai amid the ongoing rash of car thefts.

"If we get the word that the city wants to do this, we will have it filed immediately within minutes," said Spencer.

The two manufacturers are the two most commonly stolen car brands in the city.

"In my estimation, Milwaukee is ground zero for this 'Kia matter' and where things have started. There's a lot of damage that has occurred in our backyard," he said.

According to Milwaukee Police, 8,096 vehicles were stolen in 2022 and 58% were made by Kia or Hyundai. So far this year, 1,194 cars have been stolen and 52% of those were manufactured by those two automakers.

"We should be doing something immediately," he said.

Spencer said he just needs the city's Common Council to approve the filing of the lawsuit. As soon as that happens, the city would join what's called a multi-jurisdiction litigation in federal court, joining other cities like Seattle and Madison.

"I think whether it's Madison or Milwaukee or other cities filing suit, it can benefit drivers all across the state," said Madison's City Attorney Michael Haas. The council there voted to move forward with a lawsuit on Tuesday.

"We are attempting to recover costs that our Police Department and our first responders have incurred, but I think also equally as important or more important is to actually get the manufacturers to fix the problem," said Haas.

Governments are not the only ones suing these automakers.

A Milwaukee resident filed a class action lawsuit last month seeking damages, not only for himself, but for all victims who have had their Kia Or Hyundai Vehicles (models 2015-2022 with insert and turn style key systems) stolen.

For city governments, the compensation for the lawsuits would allow cities to focus on the danger motor vehicle thefts poise to the community, said both of the attorneys.

"It's not only the thefts of vehicles but it's tending to be those vehicles being involved in other activity; whether it's joyriding, ending up in collision or other thefts," said Haas.

"Even if we enter into something and Kia do what they need to do, we still need to address the underlying problems that we have and what has developed since the beginning of this," said Spencer.

In a statement Friday, a spokesperson for Hyundai said, "Hyundai is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products. All Hyundai vehicles meet the anti-theft requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114. In response to increasing thefts targeting Hyundai vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the U.S., Hyundai has introduced a free anti-theft software upgrade to prevent the vehicles from starting during a method of theft popularized on TikTok and other social media. All Hyundai vehicles produced since November 2021 are equipped with an engine immobilizer as standard equipment. Hyundai is also providing free steering wheel locks to law enforcement agencies for distribution to local residents who own or lease affected models."

Kia America did not respond to Friday's request for a response to the lawsuits that are being filed, but as mentioned in previous reporting, that company has also offered software upgrades that they hope will curb the theft issues.

Kia, Hyundai offer software fix to prevent vehicle thefts

By Bruce Harrison, Associated Press, Feb 14, 2023

MILWAUKEE — Hyundai and Kia are now offering a free software upgrade they say will curb a rash of vehicle thefts across the country.

"We wanted to make sure when we came back with a solution, it would really resolve this issue for many KIA owners," said James Bell with Kia America. "It takes time to do this, and to do it right."

The software being released updates the theft alarm software logic to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on.

Kia said the update is already available and the company is reaching out to owners. Bell said they can also call a dealership to have the update made, which takes about 30 minutes.

And anyone who completes the process, Bell said, will receive a sticker (noting the security update) for their window to deter would-be thieves.

"They're stealing the cars as part of a social media experience. And we think that seeing the combination of the sticker on the car, and in many cases also having the steering wheel lock as well — those are going to be two very big visual deterrents," said Bell.

Bell said it applies to Kias made between 2011 and 2021 with a traditional steel key ignition.

Hyundai said updates began Tuesday with a million model year 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles. The software upgrade is scheduled to be available for the remaining eligible vehicles by June.

In Milwaukee, nearly 30 cars are stolen a day on average, with two-thirds being Hyundais and Kias.

Last summer, Jeanette Shield's canary yellow Kia Soul was stolen. After recovery and repairs, she had it back home for just four days before someone stole it again.

"The first time you get mad. It was a fluke or whatever. The second time, I was devastated," said Shields.

She said both thefts were posted on TikTok. The second time, she said, her car was totaled when someone drove it into a light pole.

Shields is still without a car.

"It's just been a terrible nightmare. I just hope other people don't have to go through what I have," said Shields.

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