2022 World Car Awards at the New York International Auto Show, in New York City
The logo of Hyundai Motor Company is pictured at the New York International Auto Show, in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., April 13, 2022. Reuters

The California attorney general and the attorneys general of 17 other states on Thursday asked a federal regulator to recall Hyundai and Kia vehicles, saying they are more likely to be stolen because they lack safety features that are standard in other cars.

Hyundai Motor Co and Kia Corp vehicles represent a large share of stolen cars in multiple U.S. cities, according to data from police and state officials. While most cars in recent years have been installed with industry standard anti-theft devices, the Korean automakers have no push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices.

Hyundai Motor is the biggest shareholder of Kia.

"Kia's and Hyundai's failure to install standard safety features on many of their vehicles have put vehicle owners and the public at risk," California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is spearheading the push by the states for a recall, said in a statement. The states have written to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with their concerns.

Hyundai said its vehicles have engine immobilizers that prevent a vehicle from starting unless the correct key or fob is used, making it compliant with federal anti-theft requirements.

"These specific models comply fully with all applicable federal standards, a recall is neither appropriate nor necessary under federal law," said Kia in a statement.

U.S. theft claims were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles compared with all other manufacturers among 2015-2019 model-year vehicles, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Highway Loss Data Institute said last year.

TikTok videos that show how to steal Kia and Hyundai cars without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices have spread nationwide, leading to a raft of car thefts.

Bonta said the carmakers included the industry standard immobilizer in the same models in Canada and Europe but chose to "carve out" the United States.

"Instead of taking responsibility with appropriate corrective action, these carmakers have chosen instead to pass this risk onto consumers and our communities," Bonta said.

The automakers in February said they would offer software upgrades to 8.3 million U.S. vehicles to help curb thefts.

However, upgrades will not be available for many affected vehicles until June and cannot be installed on some 2011-2022 models, Bonta's statement said.