Officials call on Kia and Hyundai to 'step up and take action' in letter to automakers amid car theft crisis

NOW: Officials call on Kia and Hyundai to ’step up and take action’ in letter to automakers amid car theft crisis

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said Monday, March 20, he and more than 20 other attorneys general across the country sent a letter to Kia and Hyundai calling on the auto manufacturers to take swift action to address the ongoing auto theft crisis involving their brands.

The letter cites the issues across multiple states, including Wisconsin, where thefts of Kia and Hyundai cars have also led to other crimes. The authors of the letter note the steps the companies have taken thus far but note more needs to be done.

"The recent announcement of a customer service campaign, including a software upgrade for some affected vehicles, is long overdue and still not enough," the letter said.

"What we've seen from Kia and Hyundai in response to this issue, which is dragging their feet and refusing to accept responsibility," Attorney General Josh Kaul said during a news conference.

Kaul, who is leading the effort among the attorneys general, also places blame on the automakers for including anti-theft immobilizers as standard equipment on models sold in Canada and Europe but not in the U.S.

When asked why not pursue a lawsuit, Kaul said he would not comment on any potential legal action but said the collective voice of the attorneys general may send a strong message.

"We are calling on those companies to step up and take action to prevent this crisis from continuing," Kaul said.

Milwaukee was one of the first communities impacted by the issue before it spread to other cities and states. City officials note a downward trend in car thefts since 2021, but said more work remains.

"Auto thefts are continuing to decline this year as well, and that's a positive," Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said. "Even so, older Kias and Hyundais are still targeted."

The Milwaukee Common Council will vote Tuesday to authorize the city attorney to begin the process to find a remedy for the city and victims of Kia and Hyundai car thefts.

"Anything that will make our constituents as whole as possible and recoup any services and resources spent on stolen cars related to Kia and Hyundai for the fact that they've been that easy to steal," Common Council President José Pérez told reporters.

One recent Milwaukee victim of car vandalism and apparent attempted car theft said she and others she knows want their sense of security back.

"What would make me whole is to be able to park my car anywhere in Milwaukee and feel safe to do so," Tammy Bartley said.

Statements from Kia and Hyundai

Kia America sent a statement to CBS 58 in regard to the attorneys general letter, saying in part, "we are committed to working with these officials and with law enforcement agencies at the state and local level to ensure vehicle security."

Hyundai sent a similar statement saying, "Hyundai is committed to the quality and integrity of our products and plans to continue supporting the communities affected by this theft issue."

Kia's full statement is here:

"We thank the Attorneys General for the opportunity to let them know what we have done and will continue to do to combat this rise in car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it. We are committed to working with these officials and with law enforcement agencies at the state and local level to ensure vehicle security. To be clear, Kia began testing and developing a free software upgrade to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems months ago. We have already directly contacted over 1.1 million owners and lessees of impacted Kia vehicles to let them know of the availability of the software upgrade and to advise them to schedule a free installation at any Kia dealer. We are scheduled to contact over 2 million such owners and lessees by the end of March. Dealers who have installed the free upgrade report successful installation takes under an hour to complete, and customer feedback has been positive. In addition to this upgrade, we have already provided more than 23,000 steering wheel locks to over 120 law enforcement agencies across the country for them to distribute - at no cost - to impacted owners. We will continue to make these locks available – at no cost - as they are needed. We have also distributed hundreds of free steering wheel locks directly to impacted customers. On top of that, we have also established a website where owners can use their VIN to review the status of their vehicle’s eligibility for the free software upgrade and can receive more information about directly obtaining a free steering wheel lock from Kia. We are also in contact with major insurance carriers so they are aware of the actions we have taken and we are actively working with them to ensure our customers have access to quality and comprehensive coverage. Kia owners can contact our Customer Care team directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia) or online at the dedicated website - - for more information on their eligibility for the free upgrade or to learn more about obtaining a free steering wheel lock."

Hyundai's full statement is here:

"Hyundai is committed to the quality and integrity of our products and plans to continue supporting the communities affected by this theft issue. All of our vehicles meet the anti-theft requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114.
We appreciate and share the interest in addressing the rise in thefts of these vehicles.
We recently announced the launch of a free software upgrade to prevent the theft mode popularized on social media. To date, Hyundai has contacted more than a million owners and leases of Hyundai vehicles with information on the software update. We have also initiated a program to begin reimbursement to eligible customers for their purchase of steering wheel locks. Hyundai has shipped more than 40,000 steering wheel locks to more than 370 law enforcement agencies and will continue to provide free steering wheel locks to them for distribution to residents who own or lease affected models.
Here is a press release with more detail on our ongoing efforts to address this issue:"

The letter from the attorneys general is here:

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