Sud­den fires in Kia, Hyundai ve­hi­cles ig­nite height­ened con­cerns.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Kemp­ner mkemp­ner@ajc.com

A con­sumer watch­dog group is call­ing for Kia and Hyundai to re­call nearly 3 mil­lion ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing some made in Ge­or­gia, over per­sis­tent con­cerns about sud­den fires.

The push Fri­day by the Cen­ter for Auto Safety goes be­yond its ear­lier re­quest for a broader fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the fires.

“The num­ber and sever­ity of these com­plaints, when peo­ple are sim­ply driv­ing their cars on the high­way, is fright­en­ing,” Ja­son Levine, the cen­ter’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, said in a press re­lease. “It is long past time for Kia and Hyundai to act. Car fires put every­one on the road in sig­nif­i­cant dan­ger.”

The ve­hi­cles in­volved in­clude 2011-2014 Kia Sorento, Kia Op­tima, Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai Santa Fe, and 2010-2015 Kia Soul. Some, but not all of the ve­hi­cles, were cov­ered un­der the au­tomak­ers’ ear­lier re­calls tied to en­gine de­bris, ac­cord­ing to the non­profit cen­ter.

A Kia spokesman emailed that the com­pany “rec­og­nizes that cus­tomer safety is para­mount and is com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing ev­ery ther­mal in­ci­dent.”

Kia Mo­tors Amer­ica has “con­cerns about the method­ol­ogy and anal­y­sis used by the CAS for eval­u­at­ing ve­hi­cle safety or iden­ti­fy­ing a ve­hi­cle de­fect,” he wrote. And ve­hi­cle fires “may be the re­sult of any num­ber of com­plex fac­tors,” among them man­u­fac­tur­ing, in­ad­e­quate main­te­nance, im­proper re­pair and ar­son.

A Hyundai spokesman emailed that “Hyundai ac­tively mon­i­tors and eval­u­ates po­ten­tial safety con­cerns, in­clud­ing non-col­li­sion fires, with all of its ve­hi­cles and acts swiftly to re­call any ve­hi­cles with safety-re­lated de­fects.”

More than a mil­lion Sonata and Santa Fe Sport ve­hi­cles were in­volved in re­calls in 2015 and 2017 re­lated to an is­sue that could lead to bear­ing wear and en­gine fail­ure. The spokesman wrote that “in some very rare in­stances — a rate of less than 1 per­cent — the af­fected en­gines have caught on fire. An ex­haus­tive study has con­firmed that there is no de­fect trend out­side of that iden­ti­fied in the re­lated re­calls caus­ing non-col­li­sion fires in Hyundai ve­hi­cles.”

Kia Sorento and gas-only-pow­ered Op­tima ve­hi­cles are pro­duced at a Kia assem­bly plant in West Point, Ga. Some Hyundai Santa Fe ve­hi­cles also were built there. Kia and Hyundai are af­fil­i­ated com­pa­nies.

The Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Cen­ter for Auto Safety said it has tal­lied more than 220 con­sumer com­plaints of non-col­li­sion fires in the cited ve­hi­cles.

It urged the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion to launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion ear­lier this year. NHTSA said the con­cerns would be cov­ered in part by an­other re­view tied to ear­lier re­calls.

Since then, the cen­ter said it has learned of more than 100 ad­di­tional fire com­plaints.

Among them is an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a Jones­boro fam­ily’s 2014 Kia Sorento that be­came en­gulfed in flames along In­ter­state 20 in metro At­lanta. That was four months af­ter the vehi-

cle had been worked on by a deal­er­ship un­der one of the ear­lier en­gine re­calls.

Kia and in­sur­ance cov­ered the fire loss. The au­tomaker said the ex­act cause of the blaze was not de­ter­mined.

Ve­hi­cles built by other au­tomak­ers also have caught fire in the ab­sence of a col­li­sion, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Auto Safety. “How­ever, the vol­ume of fires here make it ap­pear that Hyundai and Kia are con­tent to sit back and al­low con­sumers, and in­sur­ers, to bear the brunt of poorly de­signed, man­u­fac­tured, or re­paired ve­hi­cles.”

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