Automaker Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia have now faced a new lawsuit from New York City in the United States, following a large number of vehicle thefts that went viral on TikTok and other social media platforms in recent years.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York claimed in its lawsuit that the automakers were negligent in failing to include anti-theft devices in their vehicles, which would have made them much more difficult to steal, reports The Verge.
Hyundai and Kia have now agreed to a USD 200 million settlement on the matter.
According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the “Kia Challenge” has led to hundreds of car thefts nationwide, including at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.
A group of thieves known as the “Kia Boys” were reportedly posting instructional videos on YouTube and TikTok about how to steal Kia vehicles. The videos gave a tutorial on how to bypass the vehicles’ security systems using tools as simple as a USB cable.
As per reports, the thefts were easy to pull off due to a manufacturing flaw in the Hyundai and Kia vehicles produced between 2015-2019. These vehicles lacked electronic immobilizers, a device which prevents thieves from breaking in and bypassing the vehicle’s ignition. The feature is standard equipment in the United States on nearly all vehicles from the same period made by other manufacturers. The flaw came to notice in September 2022.
A class-action lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Orange County, California, alleging that Kias built between 2011 and 2021 and Hyundai cars built from 2015 to 2021 were “deliberately” built without “engine immobilisers”.
As the challenge got viral on social media, police in several American cities reported a serious rise in car thefts.
Coming back to the USD 200 million settlement, it will only apply to around 9 million vehicles that lack push-button ignitions and anti-theft immobilizers. In February 2023, the companies also offered free software updates to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and to require a key in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on. The settlement also includes up to USD 145 million for out-of-pocket losses for consumers who had cars stolen, as per a Reuters report.
Talking about the ‘Kia Challenge’ on TikTok, The US state of Milwaukee has seen reported thefts of 469 Kia and 426 Hyundai vehicles in 2020 alone. The same numbers spiked in 2021 to 3,557 and 3,406 respectively.