WASHINGTON -- The Center for Auto Safety on Friday renewed calls for Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors America to recall almost 3 million crossovers and sedans for potential noncollision fire risk.
The center wants the automakers to recall all 2011-14 Kia Sorrento, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and Hyundai Santa Fe models, as well as all 2010-15 Kia Souls.
The public interest group petitioned NHTSA in June to investigate complaints of noncollision fires and burned wires. It is now putting pressure on the companies to issue a recall because the safety agency's review has not resulted in any action and the automakers' current remedy isn't working, said Jason Levine, executive director of the center.
Since June, the center and NHTSA have received more than 220 complaints of spontaneous fire-related incidents, and federal regulators say they also have received complaints about fires resulting from collisions.
"The number and severity of these complaints, when people are simply driving their cars on the highway, is frightening," Levine said in a statement. "It is long past time for Kia and Hyundai to act. Car fires put everyone on the road in significant danger."
Between June 12 and Oct. 12 the center said it learned of 103 additional fire reports, an 85 percent increase.
"Based on the data collected to date, and these manufacturers' inability, or unwillingness, to determine the cause of these fires on behalf of the hundreds of Kia and Hyundai customers who own cars which have burst into flames, the center believes the additional remedy which is warranted is a full recall," Levine said.
The Center for Auto Safety said it is aware of at least one dozen instances in which consumers had an engine-related recall performed — only to have the car catch fire at a later date.
NHTSA added the noncollision fires to ongoing investigations of engine failures in Kia and Hyundai vehicles, saying the probe would allow safety experts to determine the source of the problem and cover most of the vehicles referenced in the Center for Auto Safety's petition.
So far, Kia and Hyundai have addressed fire-related problems on a case-by-case basis with individual customers.
In a statement, Hyundai USA said: "Nothing is more important than the safety and security of Hyundai customers. 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."
Hyundai said it has recalled more than one million 2011-2014 Sonata and 2013-2014 Santa Fe Sport vehicles in two separate actions in 2015 and 2017 (NHTSA 15V-568 and 17V-226) to address a manufacturing issue that could lead to bearing wear and engine failure.
"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," the company said in a statement.
"Hyundai is working collaboratively with NHTSA on these recalls, which to date have completion rates of 86 and 71 percent respectively, versus an industry average of 69 percent for recalled engines. Hyundai continues to make every effort to contact customers who have not had the recall completed, including through traditional mailings, digital correspondence, owner website alerts, and in-vehicle notification through Hyundai's Blue Link telematics systems and its monthly vehicle health reports.
"In the rare case of a fire that resulted from a potential product defect, Hyundai takes immediate action to have the vehicle inspected, often with independent engineering and fire investigator experts, to determine the cause and works directly with the customer on a resolution. That includes covering expenses associated with the incident and offering complimentary transportation through a rental car or ride sharing, among other actions. . . NHTSA has been fully briefed and kept apprised of these recalls and low rates of associated non-collision fires."
Kia Motors America said in a statement it “has concerns about the methodology and analysis used by the CAS for evaluating vehicle safety or identifying a vehicle defect, [but] acknowledges all automobiles contain combustible materials and a vehicle fire may be the result of any number of complex factors, such as a manufacturing issue, inadequate maintenance, the installation of aftermarket parts, an improper repair, arson, or some other non-vehicle source, and must be carefully evaluated by a qualified and trained investigator or technician.
“KMA recognizes that customer safety is paramount and is committed to addressing every thermal incident. To quickly and effectively address these incidents, KMA is using in-house and third party fire-investigation companies, engaged an independent senior fire expert to evaluate the results of such fire event investigations and is consulting with a recent former head of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation to evaluate the organization’s response to these incidents.”
The Center, which first urged the companies last summer to recall the vehicles, is not satisfied.
"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," Levine said. "There have been reports of these fires from across the country, including a death in Ohio in April 2017. Before there's another tragedy, Kia and Hyundai must recall these vehicles, determine why they are catching on fire, and remedy the situation."
NHTSA is still considering the Center's petition after receiving a second tranche of information on July 24, the agency said in a statement provided to Automotive News. It has sent letters to Hyundai, Kia and six other manufacturers seeking information.