In 2021, TikTok was rampant with videos of Gen Zers boasting how easy it was to break into certain Kia and Hyundai models—turning cities into terrorizing joy-ride zones and sending car-theft rates soaring. But now Hyundai is taking back the driver’s seat as the third-largest car maker in the world, and the fourth biggest in the U.S. 

And this year, Kia and its parent company Hyundai also clinched three of the six World Car of the Year awards, the company announced late last week, all while undercutting their competitors. The Kia EV9 won both World Car of the Year and World Electric Vehicle awards, while the Hyundai IONIQ 5 N was recognized as the World Performance Car. Other winners included BMW, Volvo, and Toyota models.

Hyundai Motor Group has come a long way since its U.S debut in 1986, when it introduced a subcompact model called Excel and brought in sales that broke an industry record for an import car distributor in its first year. Its renewed vigor for quality control, coupled with its affordable prices, is to thank for its rise from sixth biggest car maker in 2021. Now, the motor group has endeavors in an electric vehicle “metaplant” and innovative car design

Kia and Hyundai’s troubles with TikTok

Models like Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Tucson and Kia’s Forte and Sportage, which are equipped with turn-key ignitions rather than buttons, became targets of social media-taught car-jackers for years.

In 2021, a viral TikTok trend taught people how to steal certain Kia and Hyundai models in just seconds–particularly those without an immobilizer, or a theft prevention mechanism, installed. USB charging cords and a screwdriver were all it took to wreak havoc on the two of the company’s models, Kia and Hyundai, many of which did not have immobilizers installed between 2011 and 2022.   

The result was intense and reverberated across the country. Theft insurance claims for certain models of Kia and Hyundai rose more than 1,000% between the first half of 2020 and the first half of 2023, CNN reported

In September 2023, 17 cities filed lawsuits against Hyundai for failing to install anti-theft technology in millions of vehicles, which also overwhelmed several police precincts in cities including New York, Cleveland, San Diego, Milwaukee, Columbus, and Seattle.

The court granted a preliminary approval to the lawsuit in October 2023, which includes a $145 million settlement meant to reimburse car owners of more than 9 million affected vehicles, and the court will hold a final approval hearing in July.   

Hagens Berman, a Seattle-based law firm, announced that anyone who bought or leased affected Kia or Hyundai models and had their car stolen will be informed if they can access a share of the settlement by or on March 4.

As of November 2021, immobilizers are now a standard in all of Hyundai’s vehicles. Following the fallout of the thievery, the group gave free steering wheel locks, ignition cylinder protectors, and software and hardware upgrades for car owners who lacked an anti-theft engine immobilizer. 

In an interview with The Associated Press, the company said it had “lagged behind other automakers” in making the anti-theft equipment standard. In a statement to Forbes, the group said it was unfortunate that its cars were “targeted in a coordinated effort on social media,” but conceded that “no car can be made completely theft-proof.”  What’s more is that millions of the group’s cars, including some of their top-selling models like Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Elantra and Kia’s Sportage and Forte, were recalled in September 2023 due to a risk of catching on fire. Now, nearly nine months later, the company still doesn’t have the parts they need to fix most of the affected vehicles.

… and their climb to the top

Despite the risks and challenges, the car maker is hot right now. Its upcoming releases include a new version of its bestselling Tucson SUV available in June, a K4 compact sedan, and a new luxury line–which come with upgrades to interiors, infotainment technology and safety features. At the New York International Auto Show last week, the motor group revealed a new concept for a full-size eclectic SUV model.    

It’s now the fourth-biggest U.S car maker and sold more than 724,000 vehicles in 2022. Two main things account for its success: investments in quality and innovation. 

Now, Hyundai’s luxury line, called Genesis, has become one of its most profitable business lines. The all-electric large luxury vehicles boosted sales by 23% last year compared to 2022. 

The car marker also had the most vehicles lead categories in Total Quality Awards, which were released in October 2023. These awards measure value based on what customers receive for every dollar spent in 2023, according to Strategic Vision, a buyer feedback research company.

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