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Armed with eye-popping new data showing the explosion in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter on Thursday called on the companies to recall vehicles that are unusually easy to steal.

Kia says that's not necessary because it's offering free equipment and software upgrades to owners that can solve the problem.

But Ellison, Carter, Frey and law enforcement officials said that isn't happening fast enough, and the thefts continue to rise, with Kias and Hyundais making up nearly 2 of every 5 vehicles stolen in Minneapolis last year.

The problem of Kia and Hyundai thefts exploded across the U.S. last year after details about the vulnerability of vehicles that use a traditional metal ignition key were spread across social media, especially TikTok, where teens were baited to answer the call of the "Kia challenge."

The resulting wave of thefts — including by some too young to drive — are enabling other crimes and leaving death in their wake.

In July, 70-year-old Phoua Hang of St. Paul was killed in a hit-and-run by a driver in a stolen Kia Sportage who broadsided Hang's vehicle, officials said. A 15-year-old was arrested.

In December, a 14-year-old died from injuries sustained in a single-vehicle crash involving a stolen Kia in Minneapolis, city officials said. In January, a teenage boy driving a stolen Kia died after being shot and crashing in north Minneapolis.

'Staggering' numbers

Here are some numbers released Thursday by Minneapolis and St. Paul.

  • In Minneapolis, 2,340 Kia and Hyundai thefts were reported in 2022, an 836% increase over the previous year.
  • In St. Paul last year, 953 Kia and Hyundai thefts were reported, a 611% increase over 2021.
  • More than 198 owners in the cities had their vehicle stolen twice.
  • 11 vehicles were stolen three times.

In Minneapolis in the past year, five homicides, 13 shootings, 36 robberies and 265 crashes were tied to stolen Kias or Hyundais, according to city figures.

"It's a piece of cake to steal these cars, and it's a liability for the entire city," Frey said Friday. "A 50 percent increase, I would call that concerning. But 836 percent? That's staggering."

Ellison: 'Use all the tools'

Thursday's announcement by Ellison, Frey and Carter accompanies a letter they jointly sent to SeungKyu Yoon, president and CEO of Kia America; José Muñoz, president and CEO of Hyundai and Genesis Motor North America.

Kia and Hyundai are connected through financial and ownership ties. More relevant here is that many vehicles made before 2021 from both companies share the same vulnerability: a lack of anti-theft engine immobilizers that allow some to be essentially hot-wired with any USB plug.

The letter described recent offerings by the companies to upgrade software as a "step in the right direction" but says "there needs to be a more robust and timely improvement plan for all vehicles."

Ellison said his office would "use all the tools of the law" to address the issue, raising the specter of further legal action by the state or the cities.

Class-action civil lawsuits have already been filed that include residents of Minnesota and more than a dozen states. Several major cities, including Seattle and Cleveland, have sued or are publicly considering it.

"We're evaluating all our options," said Keaon Dousti, a spokesman for Ellison.

Similarly, Frey said, "All options are on the table."

Kia: 'No defect'

In a statement released by Kia America, the company said this: "Because there is no defect in the security features in any of these vehicles and because all Kia vehicles, including these models, comply fully with all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, a recall is neither appropriate nor necessary under federal law."

The company encouraged people who own or lease Kia vehicles to schedule a free software update at any dealer, call 800-333-4542 or use the owners portal on As of Thursday, there didn't seem to be any prominent mention of the vehicles' theft problems on its website. Kia vehicles made in 2022 or later contain the engine-immobilizing technology that makes then harder to steal.

Additionally, the company noted that it had sent free steering wheel locks to police departments that have asked for them. A Minneapolis police spokesman said more than 250 such locks had been picked up by owners of vulnerable vehicles. To inquire about obtaining one, the spokesman said Minneapolis residents can call their local police station.

TikTok has publicly stated it doesn't condone the videos and will remove them if posted.