A Hyundai Elantra Sport. Photo by Chris Stone

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office sued automakers Hyundai and Kia Friday for allegedly failing to equip their vehicles with sufficient anti-theft technology, which the city says contributed to a recent uptick in car thefts throughout San Diego.

The city alleges Hyundai and Kia cars are not equipped with immobilizer technology that ensures cars cannot be started without their keys. The city’s lawsuit covers the period stretching from 2011 to 2021, when it claims other carmakers adopted the safety feature while Hyundai and Kia “failed to keep up with the times.”

Similar lawsuits have been filed by other municipalities against both automakers following a rise in thefts reportedly sparked by social media videos in which thieves have demonstrated how the vehicles can be stolen by using USB cables.

The City Attorney’s Office alleges that 146 Hyundai and Kia cars were stolen in San Diego during the first six months of 2022, and 369 cars were taken in the last six months of the year.

“Making sure cars are not easy to steal keeps dangerous drivers in stolen vehicles off the road,” San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said. “Hyundai’s and Kia’s decisions to put cost savings and profits over public safety has had significant consequences for San Diego and its residents, leading to a substantial increase in vehicle thefts, reckless driving, related crime sprees, and public harm.”

In a statement, a Hyundai spokesman said free anti-theft software upgrades have been provided to prevent such thefts and that all Hyundai vehicles produced since November of 2021 are equipped with engine immobilizers.

Free steering wheel locks have also been provided to law enforcement agencies for distribution to car owners with affected models, the statement reads.

Similarly, Kia America said in a statement that it has contacted more than 1.5 million owners and lessees to inform them of a free security software upgrade to address the issue and provided more than 23,000 free steering wheel locks to dozens of law enforcement agencies nationwide.

The company lawsuits against Kia by municipalities “without merit.”

“All Kia vehicles are subject to and comply fully with rigorous testing rules and regulations outlined in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, including under FMVSS 114 that governs ignition security systems and theft protection,” the statement continued. “Kia has been and continues to be willing to work cooperatively with local officials in San Diego and law enforcement agencies across the city to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it.”

– City News Service

Updated 3:20 p.m. March 17, 2023