The CEOs for auto giants Kia and Hyundai have refused to attend a congressional hearing to explain why hundreds of their vehicles have spontaneously burst into flames, ABC Action News has learned.
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has canceled a planned Nov. 14 hearing after the carmakers refused to testify on Capitol Hill, according to a committee spokesman.
The committee spokesman said discussions with the auto manufacturers are ongoing with the hopes scheduling a future hearing date before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
The Center for Auto Safety blasted the automakers for refusing to publicly answer lawmakers questions next week.
"Until Hyundai and Kia are willing to take responsibility for the three million vehicles on the road that could burst into flames at any minute -- with no apparent warning to the driver -- we will continue to press for a recall and full and thorough investigation," said Jason Levine, executive director for the auto safety watchdog in a released statement. "There has already been one death and a few injuries associated with these vehicle fires. How many people need to be horrifically burned before someone takes action?"
A Kia spokesman told ABC Action News the company is working with the committee to “analyze all relevant information associated with any fire or other safety-related matters and will take any necessary corrective action in a timely manner.”
A Hyundai spokesman said, “Hyundai takes this matter very seriously, and fully appreciates the concerns of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee including those of the Chairman and Ranking Member.”
The call for the Senate hearing came six months after Investigative Reporter Jackie Callaway first reported on the unexplained car fires.
Since April, the ABC Action News I-team has exposed hundreds of Kia and Hyundai models manufactured since 2011 that caught fire across the country.
“The hearing will focus on motor vehicle safety issues involving vehicle fires,” stated the identical letters – dated Oct. 16 – sent to Kia Motors America President and CEO Seungkyu “Sean” Yoon and Hyundai Motor America's Kyung Soo “Kenny” Lee.
The CEOs were asked to “promptly identify and respond to defects that may pose a fire risk” at the Nov. 14 hearing in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
In September, an Ohio mother spoke out and called for a federal investigation after watching her son burn alive in her 2014 Kia Soul parked at her apartment complex just outside of Cincinnati last year.
Carol Nash heard her 48-year-old son Keith Nash’s screams for help.
“I would not wish that on anybody,” she said.
Carol raced toward the burning car but could not get close enough to help her firstborn.
“It was so hot, I couldn’t get him out of the car without probably killing myself.”
In three separate cases – including two in Tampa Bay – drivers told the ABC Action News I-team they were trapped, fighting with doors that would not open as flames raced from the engine toward them.
In all, 91 of the more than 200 Kia fires reported to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration involve the 2011 to 2014 Optimas and Sorentos, according to the National Center for Auto Safety, an industry watchdog.
By comparison, Toyota and Honda drivers in similar-sized SUVs and sedans reported a combined 13 fires for cars sold during that same time period.
The Washington D.C.-based Center for Auto Safety first petitioned federal regulators to launch a safety defect investigation after an ABC Action News story on the car fires aired in May. The Kia that Keith Nash died in is one of more than two dozen reported fires in Kia Souls sold between 2010 and 2015.
The Center for Auto Safety reported last week that 103 fire complaints had been filed with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since June 12 – an 85 percent increase, according to the congressional hearing announcement.
When ABC Action News reached out to Kia and Hyundai for comment, they sent the following statements:
Kia Motors America Statement Regarding Congressional Committee Meeting
The safety of our customers is Kia’s top priority. Kia has and will continue to work with both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the primary government automotive regulator, as well as Congress. We take seriously and share the concerns of Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson regarding the safety of all passenger vehicles. We have openly shared information and data with NHTSA and the Committee and will continue to answer their questions in a full and transparent manner. To gain a full understanding of this industry-wide matter we have respectfully requested the Committee consider a more comprehensive review of non-collision fires among all automakers. Non-collision fires are not limited to Kia vehicles as research from the Highway Loss Data Institute, an independent, nonprofit research organization shows.
To quickly and effectively address non-collision fire incidents, KMA is using in-house and third-party fire-investigation companies and has 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. We are cooperating with both NHTSA and the Committee to analyze all relevant information associated with any fire or other safety-related matters and will take any necessary corrective action in a timely manner.
KMA encourages customers to remedy any open recalls as quickly as possible, including certain 2011-2014 model year Sorento and Optima vehicles identified in June of 2017 (NHTSA Recall Number 17V224) by taking their vehicle to the nearest Kia dealership. Additional information about open recalls may be found by visiting https://www.kia.com/us/en/content/owners/safety-recall or through www.safercar.gov. If a recall is unable to be remedied immediately, KMA will provide alternate transportation at no cost to the customer until their vehicle is repaired or another satisfactory resolution is determined.
Owners are encouraged to contact Kia Consumer Affairs at 800-333-4542 with any questions or concerns related to this matter.
Full statement from Hyundai
Nothing is more important than the safety and security of Hyundai customers. Hyundai takes this matter very seriously, and fully appreciates the concerns of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee including those of the Chairman and Ranking Member. We have engaged in frequent, open and transparent dialogue with Committee staff on a bipartisan basis, and unequivocally share the Committee’s goal of assuring the safety of our vehicles. Hyundai welcomes a more comprehensive review of non-collision fires among all automakers as recent research published by the Highway Loss Data Institute demonstrates that these incidences are not limited to Hyundai vehicles.
In close coordination with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Hyundai has recalled more than one million vehicles to address a manufacturing issue that could lead to engine failure and in certain circumstances an engine fire. In the rare case of an engine fire, Hyundai takes immediate action to determine and address the cause, and take care of the customer involved.
To date, these recalls have completion rates of 86 and 72 percent respectively, versus an industry average of 69 percent for recalled engines1. Hyundai is working diligently to contact customers who have not had the recall completed, including through traditional mailings, digital correspondence, owner website alerts and in-vehicle notification.
Hyundai has launched and is promoting an online resource for the engine recalls, www.HyundaiEngineInfo.com, to educate affected customers about the issue, how to have the recall campaign completed on their vehicle or have their vehicle inspected, and symptoms to watch and listen for in their vehicle. We also have enhanced our customer service response for affected vehicles by adding staff and resources so that we can more quickly address customer questions and concerns.