WASHINGTON — The Center for Auto Safety has asked the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate certain Kia and Hyundai vehicles built in the U.S. for potential noncrash fire risk.
The consumer safety group says 120 complaints of fires have been submitted to NHTSA along with 229 complaints of melted wires in the engine bay, smoke and burning odors. The volume of incidents suggests there is a potential systemic issue that needs to be found so a remedy can be developed, it said in the Monday petition.
The group said the vehicles with problems are the Kia Sorento, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and Hyundai Santa Fe for model years 2011-14. The Sorento, Optima and Santa Fe were built at Kia Motors Manufacturing in West Point, Ga. The Sonata was built at Hyundai's plant in Montgomery, Ala.
"An important question is whether these commonalities indicate potential flaws in the manufacturing process that is worthy of immediate investigation, not only into the vehicles but the oversight and safety processes at these facilities. In the alternative, supplier error may be responsible," the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) said in a news release.
The advocacy group said it is reasonable to conclude that more Kias and Hyundais will experience noncollision fires, which could lead to fatalities and injuries.
"Hyundai is aware of and is reviewing the petition filed this morning by the Center for Auto Safety in regards to 2011-2014 Sonata and Santa Fe Sport vehicles," spokesperson Michael Stewart said in an e-mailed statement. "Hyundai actively evaluates potential safety concerns with all of its vehicles and acts swiftly to recall vehicles with safety related defects.
"Should we, in close coordination with NHTSA, find that additional remedies in the U.S. are warranted for these vehicles, we will take immediate action to ensure the safety of our customers. It is important to note, however, that the number of reported fires related to these vehicles is extremely low. Hyundai shares the goals of both the Center for Auto Safety and NHTSA to assure the safety of the vehicles we sell to our customers and put on American roads."
Kia, in its statement, said all Kia vehicles sold in the U.S. meet or exceed federal government vehicle safety standards.
"Kia Motors America (KMA) continuously evaluates its vehicles as part of ongoing monitoring activities conducted as a standard practice on all Kia models and provides quarterly reports to NHTSA about any consumer complaints, notices or claims for any safety issues, including fires," the statement said.
"KMA has, and will continue to, cooperate and collaboratively work with NHTSA on all matters related to vehicle safety and if a safety defect is detected through the course of vehicle monitoring, Kia promptly reports a safety related defect within the five days mandated by law."
NHTSA has 120 days to respond to the petition, several of which are filed by CAS each year. Meanwhile, CAS is calling on Kia and Hyundai to issue a recall for the vehicles and repair them.