By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Corp on Tuesday asked a U.S. judge to reject lawsuits filed by 17 cities for failing to install anti-theft technology in millions of their vehicles.
The lawsuits come after thousands of Hyundai and Kia thefts that use a method popularized on TikTok and other social media channels. The cities suing Kia and Hyundai include New York, Cleveland, San Diego, Milwaukee, Columbus and Seattle.
The automakers, controlled by the same conglomerate, said in a court filing they should not held liable for thefts "resulting from an unprecedented criminal social-media phenomenon",
They added cities "lax policing and prosecution policies" and "budgetary decision-making that diverted public safety resources away from the prevention and disruption of auto theft and reckless joyriding" was more relevant than Hyundai or Kia failing to equip vehicles with anti-theft immobilizers.
In February, the automakers said they would offer software upgrades to 8.3 million U.S. vehicles to help curb thefts.
TikTok and other social media videos that show how to steal Kia and Hyundai cars without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices have spread nationwide.
This had led to car thefts that resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities in the Korean automakers' vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in February.
Immobilizers were standard on 96% of U.S vehicles by 2015 but were standard on only 26% of 2015 model year Hyundai and Kia vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Highway Loss Data Institute. The automakers noted NHTSA does not require immobilizers unlike some other countries.
Kia and Hyundai vehicles represent a large share of stolen cars in many U.S. cities, according to data from police and state officials. Many Hyundai and Kia vehicles have no electronic immobilizers, which prevent break-ins and bypassing the ignition.
In May, the automakers agreed to a consumer class-action lawsuit settlement worth $200 million over rampant car thefts of the Korean automakers' vehicles. A judge rejected initial approval but the companies will address concerns later this month.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Angus MacSwan)