Kia and Hyundai have agreed to a settlement potentially worth $200 million in a suit accusing them of making millions of vehicles that were easy prey to thieves because they lacked protections that were commonly included by other manufacturers.
Owners of about 9 million vehicles are affected by the class-action suit.
“Our goal in finalizing this settlement was to leave no one in the dark,” said Steve Berman, managing partner at the Seattle-based law firm of Hagens Berman, one of several representing the class of vehicle owners, in a statement. “The owners of these cars have experienced enough upset, and we worked to achieve a settlement that covers many types of losses.”
First priority, he said, will be getting payments to owners who sustained “out-of-pocket” losses due to theft of vehicles that were designed without “immobilizers,” an anti-theft device meant to keep a vehicle from being started without a code from the vehicle’s key.
The Highway Loss Data Institute found that in 2015, 26% of Hyundai and Kia vehicles had immobilizers as standard equipment, compared with 96% of other manufacturers’ vehicles, according to The New York Times.
The settlement also includes those who owned “theft-prone” vehicles that were not stolen, Berman said.
The vehicles, made between 2011 and 2022, also had other “design flaws,” like steering columns that allowed easy access to the ignition assembly, he said. The ignition cylinders were built without a locking mechanism, making them easily removed by thieves.
In a 21st-century twist, the design vulnerabilities were given mass exposure in videos on TikTok and YouTube, including a “Kia Challenge,” in which online users posted guides to stealing the vehicles.
Class-action lawyers said they would have settlement websites for affected vehicle owners. Kia and Hyundai said they would have websites for affected owners, as well.
The agreement is subject to approval by a federal judge. The companies said in a statement that the total amount of the payout depends on how many customers participate. They said they would set aside up to $145 million to cover those out-of-pocket losses by customers.
Kia operates separately from Hyundai, but is a subsidiary of the Korean-based automaker. The Kia factory in West Point, which produces about 340,000 vehicles a year, is the only Kia manufacturing plant in the United States. Hyundais are manufactured in Montgomery, Ala.
However, some vehicles are imported from elsewhere. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked how many of the vehicles covered by the lawsuit came off the Georgia assembly line but Kia on Monday was unable to say specifically.
The settlement will include software upgrades for some models, including the Kia Sportage, Kia Sorento and the Kia Sedona, according to The New York Times.
Georgia ranks 10th in the nation for vehicle thefts, according an analysis by ValuePenguin, a subsidiary of Lending Tree, which analyzed statistics compiled by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
In Georgia, the vehicle most commonly stolen has been a Ford pickup truck, the analysis showed.
The computer-based systems that are used in current vehicles means that most thieves, too, are becoming more sophisticated, according to Bankrate, which offers online financial advice to consumers.
Some thieves get smart keys or change a vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number), but owners can be careless, too. The National Insurance Crime Bureau found that between 2016 and 2018, nearly 230,000 vehicles were stolen because the vehicle’s fob had been left inside the car, according to Bankrate.
Kia vehicles affected:
Hyundai vehicles affected:
2013-2017 Elantra GT
2013-2014 Elantra Coupe
2011-2012 Elantra Touring
2011-2014 Genesis Coupe
2011-2012, 2019-2022 Santa Fe
2013-2018, 2019 Santa Fe; Santa Fe XL
2013-2018 Santa Fe Sport
2012-2017, 2019-2021 Veloster
Sources: Kia America, Hyundai Motor America
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