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Kia and Hyundai say it is not their fault that their cars are being stolen in an unprecedented theft surge made possible by the vehicles lacking a basic anti-theft technology virtually every other car has, according to a recent court filing. Instead, the companies point the finger at social media companies, such as TikTok and Instagram, where instructions on how to steal the cars have been widely shared and thieves show off their stolen cars.
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The lawyers representing the two corporations—which are owned by the same parent company—are not subtle about this argument. The filing—in which the company is arguing a roughly $200 million class-action settlement ought to be approved by the court—includes an entire section heading titled “Social Media and Intervening Third-Party Criminals Caused An Unprecedented Increase In Thefts.” The lawyers argue in that section that because Kia and Hyundai vehicles have “not been the subject of significant theft” before the Kia Boys social media trend, social media and the people who steal the cars—and not the car companies—are to blame for the thefts. This argument is summarized in the section titled “Social Media Incited Unprecedented Rise In Thefts.” The filing broadly reflects both the public communications strategy Kia and Hyundai have used throughout this crisis and some of the national news headlines that have covered the story,Kia, Hyundai, TikTok, and Instagram all either declined to comment or didn’t respond to a request for comment by publication time. When Hyundai announced the release of a software upgrade that would kill the engine if someone tries to start it without first disabling the car alarm by unlocking the car in February, it specifically mentioned “TikTok and other social media channels” in its press release. Kia also frequently uses the phrase “recently popularized on social media” in its statements to the press on the theft surge. TikTok has previously referred Motherboard to its community guidelines about “promotion of criminal activities that may harm people, animals, or property.”Kia and Hyundai also argue that the engine immobilizer cannot be the key factor in theft rates because “among” the most stolen vehicles in 2022 according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau is the 2021 Toyota Camry which has an immobilizer. However, this ignores that the most stolen vehicles that year were Chevy and Ford pickups, which are also the most popular vehicles in the country, followed by the Honda Civic and the Honda Accord, and all of the most popular models stolen are older cars which predate immobilizer installation. The fifth through seventh on the most stolen vehicles list, which the NICB notes are all new to the top 10 list last year, are the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra. Furthermore, Kia and Hyundai are being sued specifically by cities where the theft trends are most prevalent, whereas NICB data is not that granular and only goes down to the state level.
Still, the legal argument encapsulates that the theft trend is not due to any one factor. In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by 17 cities against Kia and Hyundai, the companies also argue this is also the cities’ fault for failing to arrest and prosecute the thieves. All of these things can be true, of course, but the basic fact remains that the cars being stolen are Kias and Hyundais because they are easy to steal, and they are easy to steal because Kia and Hyundai chose not to install a cheap part that virtually every other car sold in America had.