Engineer notified NHTSA of engine issues
Millions of Hyundai and Kia vehicles recalled as a result of investigation
The U.S. auto safety regulator has just awarded $24 million to a whistleblower, the first time the body has done so under a new program. The award has been given to a (now) ex-Hyundai Motor engineer who alerted authorities of safety lapses that lead to record penalties and large recalls concerning engines used in Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the award yesterday, with the regulator calling it “the maximum percentage allowed by law.” In 2016, engineer Kim Gwang-ho reported to the NHTSA that Hyundai was failing to address a design flaw with Theta II engines that caused them to be prone to seizing up and possibly catching fire. Constantine Cannon, the law firm representing Kim, reports the engineer brought to NHTSA attention an internal report that indicated the company was not taking enough action to address that fault.
An extensive recall resulted that affected more than 1.6 million vehicles in the US with the 2.0L and 2.4L engines, as well as more than 100,000 in Canada. Civil penalties in the U.S. amounted to $210 million, with $81 million paid to the U.S. government. Under its Whistleblower program launched in 2015, NHTSA can award up to 30 percent of collected monies as a reward, the amount given here.
“Whistleblowers play a crucial role in bringing information to NHTSA about serious safety problems that are hidden from the agency,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator. “This information is critical to public safety and we are committed to rewarding those who bring information to us.”
“I hope my reporting leads to real safety improvements, both at Hyundai and throughout the industry,” said Kim. “At Hyundai, we often repeated the catchphrase ‘Quality is our pride.’ I blew the whistle so Hyundai and Kia would keep this promise.”