Updated Mar 8, 2023 - News

Minnesota attorney general announces investigation into Kia, Hyundai over car thefts

Illustration of a steering wheel with a thief's mask on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Minnesota's attorney general announced an investigation Tuesday into whether Kia and Hyundai violated state consumer protection and public nuisance laws by failing to effectively address design flaws fueling an increase in thefts.

The big picture: Reports of stolen Kias and Hyundais have spiked across the country. Law enforcement officials say an absence of anti-theft technology and social media videos breaking down how to steal them are to blame.

  • Minneapolis has seen an 893% increase in those stolen makes over the last year, per a letter sent to company leaders by local and state officials last week. In St. Paul, thefts are up 611%.

Why it matters: Leaders say the issue has impacts beyond the drivers whose cars are stolen — in some cases multiple times — and often recovered in need of repair. Local thefts have been tied to shootings, robberies and fatal accidents.

  • Just in the last two weeks, a stolen Kia that was used in a drive-by shooting in St. Paul plowed into a family as they unpacked groceries, police chief Axel Henry told reporters.

What they're saying: Attorney General Keith Ellison said the investigation, which allows his office to demand documents and responses under oath, could lead to a lawsuit seeking to force the companies to fix the cars and provide monetary damages to consumers.

  • "They've had a long time to address this problem," he said. "All they've done is less than half measures, weak steps and no solutions."

The other side: A Hyundai spokesperson told Axios the company is "committed to the security of our customers and plans to continue our ongoing support of the communities affected by this theft issue." He said all the company’s vehicles meet federal standards for anti-theft requirements.

  • Kia said in a statement that while it is "very focused on this issue" and working with law enforcement to "combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it," a recall "is neither appropriate nor necessary under federal law" because the models meet federal safety standards and there are no defects related to security features.
  • The companies are rolling out software updates and steering wheel locks for older models.

Zoom out: The Minnesota investigation is the latest in a series of high-profile responses to skyrocketing thefts. The companies are already facing class-action claims, as well as separate lawsuits filed by city attorneys in Columbus and Seattle.

The intrigue: Ellison told reporters that while he's currently focused on the automakers, potential culpability of social media sites that allow the posting of criminal instruction videos is "absolutely positively an avenue to be explored."

What we're watching: Legislation that would require both carmakers to install anti-theft devices in the targeted models for free is also working its way through the Capitol.

  • The bill, which applies to cars made in the last 10 years that lack immobilizers, cleared its first committee on Monday.
Twin Cities thefts of Hyundais and Kias
Data: Minnesota Attorney General ; Chart: Axios Visuals

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from Kia.

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