The city of Baltimore has filed a federal lawsuit against car manufacturers Kia and Hyundai, joining a number of cities who say the companies created a public nuisance by making cars that can be easily stolen.

“Hyundai and Kia’s decision to put cost savings and profits over public safety has had significant consequences for Baltimore and its residents, as it has in other cities,” the lawsuit says.

Car thefts in the city have nearly doubled this year compared to the same time last year, part of a nationwide trend after videos showing how to easily steal the vehicles racked up millions of views on TikTok.

Certain Kia or Hyundai models can be stolen using a screwdriver and a USB charging cord.

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Cleveland, St. Louis and Seattle are among the other cities that started suing the the car companies earlier this year. Baltimore’s lawsuit says the companies “failed to keep up with industry standards,” and claim it was a result of business decisions made to reduce costs and boost profits “notwithstanding decades of academic literature and research supporting the deterrent effects” of anti-theft technology.

“The dramatically increased rate of Hyundai and Kia theft in Baltimore has required city and police resources that would not have been needed but for Hyundai and Kia’s deliberate failures,” the lawsuit says. “Car thieves — many of them teenagers— take advantage of these failures and engage in reckless driving, creating substantial safety risks to themselves and Baltimore residents and their property.”

In February, 54-year-old Alfred Fincher was killed in East Baltimore after a man driving a stolen Hyundai fled from police, ran a red light on North Avenue, crashed into another vehicle and then smashed into Fincher, causing a vacant building to come tumbling down on both vehicles.

Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown recently joined 17 other local prosecutors in calling on the federal government to issue a recall for particular Hyundai and Kia models that have been stolen at increased rates within the past year.

In a previous statement to The Baltimore Banner in late March, Hyundai said it has launched a free software upgrade to prevent the type of theft popularized on social media.

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“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,” the company said at the time.

Hyundai Motor Group acquired Kia in 1998, a year after the latter company filed for bankruptcy, but the two automakers operate independently. Kia has also begun to roll out a software update.

Prosecutors said in their letter that the software updates are an “insufficient response to the problem” and do “not adequately remedy the safety concerns.”

Banner reporter Penelope Blackwell contributed to this article

justin.fenton@thebaltimorebanner.com

Justin Fenton is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Banner. He previously spent 17 years at the Baltimore Sun, covering the criminal justice system. His book, "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption," was released by Random House in 2021 and became an HBO miniseries. 

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