US to probe 3-million Kia and Hyundai vehicles over fire reports
Washington — The top US vehicle safety regulator said on Monday it would open an investigation into 3-million Hyundai and Kia vehicles after reviewing reports of more than 3,000 fires that injured more than 100 people.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the investigation is in response to a petition seeking a probe filed in June by the Center for Auto Safety. The car safety agency has been investigating some Hyundai and Kia vehicles for fire risks since 2017. The South Korean carmakers have recalled more than 2.3-million vehicles since 2015 to address various engine fire risks.
The probe covers the 2011-2014 Kia Optima and Sorento, the 2010-2015 Kia Soul, and the 2011-2014 Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe.
Hyundai said in a statement it is co-operating and has been in “frequent, open and transparent dialogue regarding non-collision engine fires”.
Kia said it will continue to work with the NHTSA and “openly shares information and data with NHTSA on all matters pertaining to vehicle safety”.
The NHTSA said the decision to initiate the probe was based on its analysis of information received from multiple manufacturers, consumer complaints and other sources. The agency said prior Kia and Hyundai vehicle recalls covered by the probe are primarily related to engine fires. The new probe “is not limited to engine components and may cover additional vehicle systems or components”.
Jason Levine, executive director of the CenteR for Auto Safety, said it was “long past time for the full power of the federal government to be brought to bear to answer why so many thousands of Kia and Hyundai vehicles have been involved in noncrash fires”.
He added that he hoped the probe would quickly lead to new recalls. “The evidence is now clear — Hyundai and Kia should have acted to recall these vehicles far earlier,” he said.
In March, Connecticut attorney-general William Tong said a group of US states were investigating Hyundai and Kia for potential unfair and deceptive acts related to reports of hundreds of vehicle fires.
In November, Reuters reported federal prosecutors had launched a criminal investigation into Hyundai and Kia to determine if vehicle recalls linked to engine defects had been conducted properly.
In January, the carmakers agreed to offer software upgrades for 3.7-million vehicles not being recalled.
A South Korean whistle-blower in 2016 reported concerns to the NHTSA, which has been probing the timeliness of three US recalls and whether they covered enough vehicles.
In 2015, Hyundai recalled 470,000 US Sonata sedans, saying engine failure would result in a vehicle stall, increasing the risk of a crash. At the time, Kia did not recall its vehicles, which share the same Theta II engines.
In March 2017, Hyundai expanded its original US recall to 572,000 Sonata and Santa Fe Sport vehicles with those Theta II engines, citing the same issue involving manufacturing debris. On the same day, Kia also recalled 618,000 Optima, Sorento and Sportage vehicles, all of which use the same engine.