By Rohan Mattu and Jessica Albert
BALTIMORE, Maryland (WJZ) — Baltimore has joined cities across the country in suing car manufacturers Hyundai and Kia, blaming hundreds of car thefts in the city this year on the companies’ alleged cost-cutting measures.
Certain models of Hyundai and Kia vehicles have been targeted by auto thieves in the wake of a series of social media videos, mainly on TikTok, that demonstrate how easy the vehicles are to start without a key.
Police departments all across the country have been dealing with a rash of Kia and Hyundai thefts after videos showing how easily some models can be hotwired using something as common as a cellphone charging cord went viral on TikTok.
Baltimore Police said car thefts are up 95 percent this year, with 41 percent of them being Kia vehicles and Hyundai vehicles.
Since the start of the year, 577 of the vehicles have been stolen.
Mayor Brandon Scott and Commissioner Michael Harrison said Kia and Hyundai need to be held accountable for the recent rise in thefts of their cars.
That’s why the city is joining other cities like St. Louis and Seattle in filing a lawsuit against the automakers.
“Kia and Hyundai created a nationwide problem in order to save a few bucks,” Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson said in a statement. “We are joining these other cities to hold them responsible. In addition to making our citizens vulnerable to theft, they have endangered their physical safety, as car thieves are more likely to engage in reckless driving in these stolen vehicles. We hope that this lawsuit not only forces Hyundai and Kia to come up with a viable solution to this problem of their own making, but deters other companies in the future from putting profit over public safety.”
Recent crimes are part of the reason for the legal action, including one from two weeks ago where police say a stolen Kia Soul from Baltimore City rammed into a gas station in Essex.
WJZ talked to motorists who are worried that the same thing happened could happen to them.
“It’s crazy,” Nevonah Darden of Baltimore said. “They need to have a recall.”
According to Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, auto thefts are up 95% this year, with Kia and Hyundais representing 41% of those stolen vehicles.
Councilwoman Odette Ramos said these thefts are getting out of hand and it is time to put pressure on the automakers.
“It’s a big deal,” Ramos said. “It really affects a lot of people, obviously, because we’ve known a couple of people who’ve had them stolen a couple times.”
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, the Mayor’s Office said.
Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown was one of nearly two dozen attorneys general across the country who in March demanded Kia and Hyundai to take action against the crisis of car thefts.
Last month, Brown joined a coalition of 18 states calling for a federal recall of the theft-prone cars.
Kia and Hyundai announced changes earlier this year aimed to prevent thefts. The companies also shipped tens of thousands of anti-theft steering wheel locks across the country.
The Wall Street Journal reported Kia said the lawsuits are without merit, and that Hyundai said its vehicles meet federal safety requirements.
We reached out to Kia and Hyundai for a reaction to the lawsuit.
Kia responded saying the company has distributed more than 1,400 free steering wheel locks to Baltimore Police and has installed security upgrades in more than 230,000 affected cars across the country.
Also, Kia released a statement in response to the Baltimore lawsuit.
“Kia remains deeply concerned that car theft targeting certain models – encouraged by social media content promoting criminal conduct – is an issue,” the statement said. “To address these crimes, we continue to roll out a free, enhanced security software upgrade to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems and we are also providing steering wheel locks for impacted owners at no cost to them.,” Kia stated.
Kia also said it has contacted close to 3 million owners and lessees of Kia vehicles—covering over 90% of affected vehicles—to let them know of the availability of the software upgrade.
The Baltimore City Police Department is offering free steering wheel locks at all of its precincts.
Here is some information on the cars affected:
Please note: This content carries a strict local market embargo. If you share the same market as the contributor of this article, you may not use it on any platform.