Ellison investigates Kia and Hyundai amid spate of social media-inspired thefts

Amid a large spike in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Tuesday that he is investigating automakers to determine whether they have violated state consumer protection and public nuisance laws by not providing any Their cars and SUVs have built in industry-standard anti-theft technology.

Many Kia and Hyundai vehicles don’t have electronic immobilizers, although the technology has been standard for around two decades. The technology prevents a vehicle from starting if the code programmed into a microchip embedded in the key does not match the code in the on-board computer.

While many of the vehicles at risk have been on the road for more than a decade, authorities say thieves began targeting them in large numbers in 2022 after social media videos posted step-by-step instructions on how to start without a key delivered.

In the Twin Cities, 3,293 Kias and Hyundais were reported stolen in 2022, a nearly ninefold increase from 2021. In Minneapolis, the two brands account for 40 percent of all vehicle thefts.

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At a press conference with Ellison at the Minnesota Capitol, St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry said that 20 are stolen in his city every week and they are often used in much more serious crimes.

“It has gotten a lot worse and is linked to all kinds of violent crime. Two weeks ago we had a drive-by with one of these vehicles that crashed into an innocent family who were unloading their groceries,” Henry said.

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On Friday, a driver allegedly dodging a state trooper in a stolen Kia crashed through a fence on an Interstate 94 overpass in north Minneapolis and landed on the embankment below. The Minnesota State Patrol said police arrested two youths near the scene of the crash; none suffered major injuries.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said authorities arrest and prosecute the thieves, but preventing the thefts in the first place would help free up thin law enforcement resources.

“We don’t have to wait for the crime to take place to protect lives,” Frey said. “We can do that beforehand. One of the ways we can protect people up front is to make sure the kind of anti-theft devices that are in pretty much every other make of car and every other manufacturer out there are also in Kias and Hyundais.”

Cities like Seattle and Columbus have sued the automakers. Ellison’s lawsuit ends close to a lawsuit, but he said he’s not ruling out one.

“We will investigate as much as necessary and then take appropriate action,” Ellison said. “We’re curious to know what we’re talking about, and we believe the company may have information that can help us prove our case, which they are legally required to provide us with.”

The investigation comes nearly a week after Ellison, Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter sent a letter to the companies asking that they recall and upgrade vehicles that lack electronic immobilizers.

Ian Evans, 32, of St. Paul, appeared at the press conference and said a thief stole his 2013 Kia Rio just before Christmas. Police recovered it about a day later, but Evans said it took almost two months to repair because there were many other victims ahead of him.

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Ian Evans, of St. Paul, said it took two months to get his Kia Rio repaired after it was stolen from his garage in December 2022. Evans spoke to reporters Tuesday outside the Minnesota Capitol after appearing at a news conference with Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Matt Sepic | MPR News

“The window had to be fixed, the steering column replaced and the locks replaced,” Evans said. “I’ve been to the repair shop in a row of Kia’s to get fixed.”

When he parks his car, Evans says he locks the steering wheel and breathes “a sigh of relief” every time he comes back to find the vehicle intact.

MPR News emailed several media contacts at Kia following Ellison’s opening letter last week and Tuesday’s press conference, but received no response.

A Hyundai spokesman said in an email Tuesday that all of the company’s vehicles meet federal anti-theft requirements. A press release from the company in February states that every vehicle manufactured since November 2021 will be equipped with an electronic immobilizer as standard.

The press release added that Hyundai is offering free software upgrades that enable an engine shutdown feature that can only be disabled using the owner’s remote control fob. However, some 2011-2022 model year vehicles cannot accommodate the patch, so Hyundai plans to offer free steering wheel locks to those owners.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Kia offers similar software upgrades.

The issue has also attracted the attention of lawmakers. A House bill filed last month would require all automakers to install immobilizers on any vehicle made in the last decade that doesn’t have one.

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