Kia America continues to chip away at updating its large pool of vehicles targeted by thieves following viral social media videos demonstrating how they can be easily hotwired.
The automaker staged a mobile service event in Atlanta for owners whose cars have been impacted by the crime wave because they lack engine immobilizers, which prevent a vehicle from starting without a key fob present. Instead of a pushbutton start, they employ a physical key.
Technicians performed a software upgrade designed to protect the vehicles retroactively, enhancing the existing burglar alarm and requiring the key to be in the ignition for the engine to start.
Of the 4.5 million Kias on the road without engine immobilizers, only 3.2 million are eligible for the patch because they have internal alarm systems — which is what the update enhances.
Kia partnered with Georgia officials to host the mobile service center at Atlanta Civic Center. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and the city's police department also collaborated on the effort.
Dickens has a good relationship with Kia Georgia CEO Stuart Countess and wanted to help combat the issue, according to Kia director of communications James Bell.
Kia Georgia in West Point is about 80 miles southwest of Atlanta. In 2009, it started production of Kia vehicles and now builds the Telluride, Sorento and Sportage crossovers and the K5 midsize sedan. It has created more than 14,000 jobs.
About 8,000 Kia owners were alerted about the mobile service event via email and other channels. Over the course of four hours, 100 owners came through and 70 upgrades were processed, Bell said.
"The energy behind the event was primarily driven by Mayor Dickens and Atlanta P.D.," he said. It "was very positive and the mayor and several high-ranking members of the Atlanta police department attended to show their support and appreciation."
To date, about 19 percent of eligible vehicles have undergone an upgrade. To limit exposure for the remaining 1.3 million vehicles not eligible for the upgrade, Kia has been providing free steering wheel locks to owners.
Hyundai vehicles have been part of the crime wave as well. The automaker accelerated its efforts to get the vehicles protected by staging a mobile clinic in Washington, D.C., last month.