Sudden fires: Center seeks recall of 2.9 million Kia, Hyundai vehicles

–Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

ATLANTA — 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 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 late last week. “It is long past time for Kia and Hyundai to act. Car fires put everyone on the road in significant danger.”

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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 vehicles, were covered under the automakers’ earlier recalls tied to engine debris, according to the non-profit 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.”

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Kia Sorento and gas-only-powered Optima vehicles are produced at a Kia assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. 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.