The city of Madison is gearing up to sue carmakers Kia and Hyundai for creating a public nuisance by failing to equip their vehicles with anti-theft software, which it says led to a sharp uptick in the theft of the companies’ vehicles last year.
The City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution authorizing the city to hire outside legal counsel to file a federal lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai for what the city in a statement called their “role in creating a public nuisance.”
Car thefts dropped by 5% in Madison last summer, compared to the prior year, but thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles increased by 270%, making up 45% of all stolen auto cases in July and August. Rates of Kia and Hyundai thefts are even higher in Milwaukee, where the two brands comprise 60% of all stolen autos.
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The two brands are especially susceptible to theft because of a manufacturing flaw in less-expensive models that allows vehicles to be stolen without a key. Viral TikTok challenges spearheaded by the Milwaukee-based “Kia Boys” show people how to start a vehicle’s engine with a USB cable and a screwdriver.
“Madison residents deserve better,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a statement. “These corporations cut corners and put people at risk. In their search for profits, they pushed the costs of keeping people safe off to cities like Madison. That’s unacceptable.”
Madison police responded last summer by assigning burglary detectives to stolen auto cases and giving out 150 steering wheel locks to Kia and Hyundai owners.
Kia and Hyundai last month started offering free software upgrades for some model owners, but not before major insurance companies Progressive and State Farm announced they would not issue new insurance policies for their vehicles.
Three Milwaukee County residents have filed two class-action lawsuits against the manufacturers in the last six months. Cities such as Cincinnati also have filed class-action lawsuits to recover damages for their residents.
Stolen autos can lead to other public safety concerns. In the statement, the city pointed to an incident in which a stolen Kia Soul was found on fire after having crashed into a tree on the city’s Southeast Side after being stolen out of a parking garage the day before.
“This real-world example is one of many that have taxed city resources, while putting city staff, residents and infrastructure in danger because of the manufacturers’ failure to install industry standard anti-theft technology in their vehicles,” Rhodes-Conway said.