New York City latest to sue Hyundai and Kia claiming their cars are too easy to steal

What started as a TikTok craze has become a 'public nuisance'

Hyundai and Kia cars were stolen 977 times in New York City in the first four months of 2023, and authorities have had enough.

The startling figure was rolled out as the Big Apple filed suit against the companies' US subsidiaries, both owned by Hyundai Motor Company, alleging that their failure to implement modern security controls has "created a public nuisance."

"This represents a roughly 660 percent increase in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles as compared to those same months in 2022, when there were only 148 such thefts," blasts the complaint [PDF] filed with the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.

The lawsuit argues that while "the days of 'hotwiring' cars with nothing more than a screwdriver are largely over" thanks to immobilizer devices tied to radio-equipped key fobs, there are two major outliers.

"Hyundai's and Kia's business decisions to reduce costs, and thereby boost profits, by foregoing common anti-theft technology have resulted in an epidemic of thefts. This vehicular crime wave has had a significant impact on law enforcement operations, emergency services, and public safety, including in New York City, where there are significant competing priorities for New York City Police Department."

It claims that thieves using "tools no more advanced than ... a USB cable" are able to drive off in the motors within seconds, and the issue affects a bunch of models produced for the States between 2011 and 2022: "Hyundai Accent, Elantra, Elantra GT, Elantra Coupe, Elantra Touring, Genesis Coupe, Kona, Palisade, Santa Fe, Santa Fe XL, Santa Fe Sport, Sonata, Tucson, Veloster, Venue, and Veracruz; and the Kia Forte, K5, Optima, Rio, Sedona, Seltos, Sorento, Soul, and Sportage."

We emphasize the States because "Hyundai and Kia vehicles sold in the European and Canadian markets incorporate vehicle immobilizers, because regulations there expressly require them. It is only in the United States that Hyundai and Kia have chosen to sacrifice public safety for profits," the complaint claims.

But why has this oddly specific brand of grand theft auto become, as the filing calls it, an "epidemic"? We need look no further than Gen Z fave TikTok.

In 2020, the complaint states, "a group of teenagers began posting 'how-to' videos detailing how simple it was to steal Susceptible Vehicles. That group, the 'Kia Boyz,' became notorious for posting videos of youth engaging in reckless driving after stealing Kias and Hyundais. As the videos detailed, a thief need only remove the plastic cowl under the steering column and use a USB cable to start these unsecure cars."

Since then, thefts of the cars have skyrocketed across the US – and continue to rise. Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Diego, Seattle and more cities have already sued the automaker alleging the same negligent practices.

In many cases, the crimes result in the cars being destroyed by reckless driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said back in February that there had already been 14 crashes and eight fatalities linked to Hyundai and Kia thefts that early in the year.

"Defendants' conduct has created a public nuisance that could have been mitigated or avoided had they followed industry-wide standards and installed immobilizer devices, or an equivalent anti-theft device, in all their vehicles," the New York City complaint alleges.

While the document acknowledges the companies' attempts to mitigate the issue with a software update, it complains that it is "far too late to prevent the nuisance that the Susceptible Vehicles created and the expenses that the City has incurred and continues to incur."

It adds: "Moreover, the update's efficacy has not been proven in the real world – and in fact Susceptible Vehicles have already been stolen after receiving the update."

In another blow, the pair have agreed to pay more than $200 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from owners who found their cars weren't where they left them.

New York City accuses the automakers of common law public nuisance and negligence, seeking a jury trial in pursuit of compensatory and punitive damages among other measures to prevent further thefts. ®

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