Kia’s response to theft problems with some of its cars is to give owners The Club.
In response to criticism of a growing number of thefts and a tragic car accident in Buffalo, Kia America said it would work through local police departments to provide free steering wheel locks to owners of Kia vehicles with steel keys.
What it hasn’t said exactly is how immature and inexpensive its solution is: The Club, available to retail for $40 or less.
The South Korean auto giant – which sells 3 million cars a year – says it doesn’t view crime against its vehicles across the country as a defect in its cars, but as a “local crime problem” spurred by social media.
It aims to solve it by giving consumers this long bright red metal bar with protruding hooks at both ends, which was developed and popularized in the 1980s.
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“The club provides a very good visual and physical deterrent for those who wish to commit this crime,” Kia spokesman James Bell said Monday. “They don’t want to spend a lot of time stealing the vehicle, so the club is a good deterrent for them to keep going.”
Kia plans to distribute them through police departments, rather than requiring customers to go to their dealerships, as that’s more typical of auto repairs or recalls.
“Kia is trying to assist local law enforcement,” Bell said. “Physically, there is nothing wrong with the vehicles. They were built to federal regulations.
But someone forgot to tell the police about their role. As of Sunday, no one from Kia had contacted police departments in either Buffalo or Amherst, the area’s two largest communities.
This leaves local car owners like Amherst’s Bill Finkelstein confused and angry. He said when he reached out to the Amherst and Buffalo police departments for information and help, both said they didn’t know about it or wouldn’t.
And he didn’t get anywhere by calling dealers or Kia directly.
Bell said he left a voicemail message with the Buffalo police force Monday, but the automaker is largely waiting for local authorities to reach out and ask for help. He said this has worked “fairly successfully” in other cities across the country where the thefts have taken place.
“We make the vehicles. We are not responsible for maintaining peace and tranquility in the community,” Bell said. “We are supporting local law enforcement in their requests for assistance. We have not yet received a request for support from your community.”
The Seoul-based automaker came under fire in Buffalo last week for the vulnerability of its vehicles to theft after four teenagers were killed in an early-morning crash on the Kensington Expressway off the Scajaquada Expressway exit last Monday. The youths, another injured passenger and the driver were in a Kia Sportage that was stolen the night before.
Police say certain older Kia and Hyundai vehicles with steel keys and turn-to-start ignition systems are vulnerable to theft because they don’t have immobilizers. And a series of how-to videos on social media apps like TikTok have fueled a nationwide epidemic of theft across the country, raising concern from law enforcement and criticizing both Kia and Hyundai.
Bell said the cars built between 2011 and 2021 meet federal and state safety requirements that don’t mandate immobilizers, so nothing wrong was done by Kia. And he reiterated the “local” nature of the crime.
“These vehicles are primarily stolen for jaunts or thrills,” Bell said.
In response to last week’s crash, Kia Corp.’s US subsidiary announced issued a statement in which she pledged to “work closely with local law enforcement in her fight by providing steering wheel locks free of charge as optional protection to concerned steel key owners.” operated Kia vehicles.” It also urged customers to contact Kia’s Consumer Assistance Center via a toll-free number.
No details were given as to what it would offer, and Bell said it was up to police departments to determine how the clubs would be distributed.
“We’re happy to help as many as we can,” he said, while acknowledging a supply shortage. “We provide as many as we can procure.”
But police were confused and referred consumers to retailers.
Finkelstein said he contacted both Northtown Kia and Transitowne Kia. Both said they didn’t know and referred him to the Kia Customer Service Centre, which is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 9pm. Finkelstein said he called and got nothing.