Car thefts have skyrocketed in St. Louis in recent months, with city leadership threatening lawsuits against Kia and Hyundai for an alleged defect that makes certain makes of the cars easier to steal.
"Our drivers probably get about five of these things a day. Just Kias and Hyundais getting stolen," tow truck driver Mark Hartmann told KMOV last week of thefts in the city.
Auto thefts in St. Louis have doubled this year, according to KMOV. In July alone, the city averaged about 21 Kia and Hyundai theft incidents each day. That number increased to 23 thefts each day in August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch previously reported.
In August, St. Louis leaders threatened to sue Hyundai and Kia, demanding the car companies address a defect that allegedly makes stealing vehicles made before 2021 easier to steal. KMOV reported last week that plans to sue the carmakers over the city's spike in auto thefts are still in the works.
"With this letter, the city demands that Kia and Hyundai mitigate the defective conditions providing thieves – including teenagers as young as 13 – the instrumentalities by which they are destroying property, endangering city drivers and themselves, and, in some cases, committing violent felonies," according to the letter written Aug. 19 by City Counselor Sheena Hamilton.
Hyundai is Kia’s parent company, but the two automakers operate independently.
"Another stolen recovery we got," Hartmann added to KMOV of picking up the remains of a stolen car in the city. "It’s good for business but it’s bad for a lot of things. Customers are out of their car for weeks."
A spokesperson for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the planned lawsuits.
Hyundai Motor America spokesperson Ira Gabriel told Fox News Digital this week that the company "received the letter from the City of St. Louis and provided a formal response."
"Our vehicles are not defective and comply with all applicable safety regulations. Notwithstanding this, we have been working cooperatively with the St. Louis Police Department and the police departments in other communities to provide our assistance in responding to these thefts. We have provided the St. Louis Police Department and police departments elsewhere with steering wheel locks so that they can distribute them to our customers affected by these criminal acts. We continue looking for meaningful ways to support law enforcement efforts," he continued. Gabriel also noted that a security kit that helps shield cars from the thefts is available at Hyundai dealers and authorized installers.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt pushed back against St. Louis leaders' plans to sue the automakers over the crimes in August.
"St. Louis has a violent crime problem. What’s causing crime in the city? The Mayor’s war against the police? The prosecutor letting criminals run wild? Evidently city ‘leaders’ think it’s….the cars. Yes—car manufacturers are to blame not criminals You can’t make this stuff up," he tweeted on Aug. 30.
St. Louis was considered the murder capital of the United States but was unseated this year by New Orleans. As of Sept. 17, St. Louis recorded 45 homicides per 100,000 residents compared to New Orleans' 52 homicides per 100,000 residents as of Sept. 11.
Thefts of Kias and Hyundais have skyrocketed across the country in recent months, as a TikTok challenge using the hashtag "Kia Boys" grew in popularity. The social media trend challenged people to steal certain models of Kias and Hyundais made between 2010-2021 that are not equipped with an electric anti-theft security device called an immobilizer. The cars can be stolen with just a USB cable and a screwdriver, according to the social media trend.
"Kia and Hyundai’s defective vehicles have caused a public safety crisis in the city, endangering the health, safety, and peace of all those who live, work or visit the city," Hamilton continued in the letter to the car companies. "Your companies bear the responsibility to mitigate the public nuisance your negligence has created for the city and its residents."
The car companies have also faced a handful of class action lawsuits filed this year over the vehicles not having immobilizers.
A law firm in Ohio reported last week that more than 3,600 people in the state have inquired about joining the proposed suit. Another class action suit was filed in California last month against the car companies over the vehicles lacking immobilizers. A similar class action suit was filed in Illinois at the beginning of September, and another one was filed in Minnesota later that same month.
Hyundai Motor America spokesperson Gabriel added in the statement to Fox News Digital that the company remains "concerned about the increase in thefts of certain Hyundai vehicles that have been targeted in a coordinated social media campaign." Hyundai also provides steering wheel locks to police departments in areas seeing an increase in the thefts, and is developing software to further prevent the crimes in addition to releasing a glass break sensor security kit available at dealerships and approved installers.
"All Hyundai vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Some earlier models, without a push-button ignition, do not have engine immobilizers. In November 2021, engine immobilizers became standard on all Hyundai vehicles produced," Gabriel said.
A representative for Kia America also told Fox News Digital later Sunday that the company is "is concerned with the rise in vehicle thefts."
"While no car can be made completely theft-proof, criminals are targeting vehicles equipped with a steel key and "turn-to-start" ignition system as opposed to those equipped with a key fob and "push-button to-start" system. Kia America continues to work closely with local law enforcement in affected areas to provide steering wheel lock devices at no cost to concerned owners of steel key operated Kia vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer," the statement states.
"All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the year or as a running change, and all Kia vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards." The company is also testing software updates to "further secure these targeted vehicles and will share more information as it becomes available."