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(Reuters) -- The city of St. Louis, Missouri, said on Monday it was joining a number of major U.S. cities that are suing Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Corp. for failing to install anti-theft technology in millions of their vehicles.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Missouri follows similar actions taken by several U.S. cities to address increasing Hyundai and Kia thefts that use a method popularized on TikTok and other social media channels. Other cities suing Kia and Hyundai include Cleveland, Ohio; San Diego, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Seattle.
Immobilizers were standard on 96% of U.S vehicles by 2015 but were standard on only 26% of 2015 model year Hyundai and Kia vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute.
“Big corporations like Kia and Hyundai must be held accountable for endangering our residents and putting profit over people,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.
Kia and Hyundai vehicles represent a large share of stolen cars in multiple U.S. cities, according to data from police and state officials. Many Hyundai and Kia vehicles have no electronic immobilizers, which prevent break-ins and bypassing the ignition.
Last month, the Korean automakers controlled by the same conglomerate said they would offer software upgrades to 8.3 million U.S. vehicles to help curb thefts.
TikTok videos that show how to steal Kia and Hyundai cars without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices have spread nationwide. This had led to car thefts that resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities in the Korean automakers’ vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in February.
Last week, a group of 22 U.S. state attorneys general criticized the automakers, saying they need do more to address problems with millions of U.S. vehicles that are prone to theft.
Kia said on Monday that lawsuits by U.S. cities over the thefts “are without merit.” It said it was “willing to work cooperatively with law enforcement agencies in St. Louis to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it.” Its vehicles comply with U.S. theft protection regulations, it said.
Hyundai said it has taken a number of actions “in response to increasing and persistent thefts targeting our vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the United States.”
The attorneys general urged the automakers to accelerate software upgrades and provide free alternative protective measures for owners whose cars cannot support the software upgrade.
Since May 2022, St. Louis police received more than 4,500 reports of thefts of Kia or Hyundai vehicles. Sixty-one percent of vehicles stolen in St. Louis have been Kias and Hyundais, St. Louis said.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison launched a civil investigation into Kia and Hyundai vehicles that lacked industry-standard, anti-theft technology. He said this month that last year, thefts of Kias and Hyundais in Minneapolis were tied to five homicides and 265 motor vehicle accidents.
All Hyundai vehicles produced since November 2021 are equipped with an engine immobilizer as standard equipment.