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Cleveland sues Kia and Hyundai in response to surge in car thefts

Everyonephoto Studio
Vehicles made by Hyundai and Kia have been targeted disproportionately for theft in Cleveland and across the country since the summer of 2022.

Cleveland has filed a lawsuit against the carmakers Kia and Hyundai for failing to prevent thefts of their vehicles.

The suit, filed Tuesday in federal court in California, joins several other lawsuits filed nationwide against the carmakers, including one class-action suit moved to the same court.

“Kia and Hyundai have been prioritizing profits over people and profits over safety,” said Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, during a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

City officials spoke to the press at one of the city’s impound lots, surrounded by Kia and Hyundai vehicles that were stolen in Cleveland.

The basis for the lawsuit is the failure by both companies to include an engine immobilizer in some of their models, making it possible to steal the cars with just a USB cable.

According to the complaint, between October and December of last year, more than 1,200 Hyundais and Kias were stolen in Cleveland.

“It is just a hard time right now in our city if you own a Kia or a Hyundai,” Bibb said. “These aren’t luxury cars, these are working-class vehicles.”

The trend in Cleveland started in July of last year, with the number of stolen Kias and Hyundais jumping from 32 in June to 130 in July.

Cleveland Law Director Mark Griffin said the carmakers were outliers in their decision not to install the engine immobilizers.

“It is their fault because it is a foreseeable misuse,” Griffin said. “If you know or should know that a design defect is going to be misused, then you are responsible.”

According to the city’s lawsuit, just 26 percent of 2015 Hyundai and Kia models had engine immobilizers, while 96 percent of other models included the technology.

The carmakers have begun issuing software updates to attempt to prevent thefts in vulnerable vehicles.

The city’s lawsuit is calling for a court order requiring a fix from the carmakers and compensation for the cost the city has incurred to deal with the rash of thefts.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.