Company Whistleblower Behind Latest Recall of 240,000 Hyundai, Kia Vehicles

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
company whistleblower behind latest recall of 240 000 hyundai kia vehicles

He lost his job for it, but Kim Gwang-ho, a 25-year Hyundai veteran at the automaker’s Seoul, South Korea facility, knew he needed to speak out.

The engineer blew the whistle on his employer, reporting the automaker to both South Korean and American officials after uncovering evidence Hyundai was covering up a defect in several of its models. Kim even published internal documents to back up his claim.

Kim, 55, was fired from his job, but authorities took note. As a result, a further 240,000 vehicles — totaling 12 models — have been added to a recall already 1.4 million strong.

According to the New York Times, Hyundai disputes Kim’s claim, despite being ordered by Korea’s Transport Ministry to recall nearly a quarter million Hyundai and Kia vehicles. It also forwarded its concerns about a cover-up to prosecutors. In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into the issue, telling the NYT it will act if required.

“The issues raised were being monitored before his request was made, as part of our stringent internal procedures,” the automaker said in a statement.

What were those issues? According to the ministry, the defects include damaged vacuum lines and excessive ventilation resistance in fuel vapor canisters. The issues can lead to engine damage and stalling.

Last month, Hyundai recalled about 1.4 million vehicles in Korea and the U.S. over engine debris issues that could also lead to stalling. A further 500,000 vehicles were recalled in 2015 over a similar problem with its Theta 2 engine, though Hyundai and the ministry disagree on whether the issues are related.

For Kim, the drama started during a July 2015 meeting. After his colleagues allegedly mentioned downplaying a recently discovered engine flaw in a bid to reduce repair costs, Kim feared he would become embroiled in a criminal investigation. In the recent past, Korea’s secretive, top-heavy corporations and government have become rife with accusations of corruption and cover-ups. The country’s former president fell victim to it, with some company executives now facing charges.

Speaking out against an employer is deeply frowned upon in Korean culture, leaving Kim a virtual outcast. Still, when his meeting with Hyundai’s auditors apparently failed to get action on the engine issue, Kim took his evidence to the media. He also posted it online, updating the information regularly.

“At first my wife asked me not to do it,” Kim told Reuters. “She was worried about living costs if I’m fired. But I’m stubborn, and persuaded her that the problems will be buried forever without my confession.”

At the time, Kim said the 2015 recall was just the tip of the iceberg, claiming Hyundai knew the engine contained a design problem. In his view, the automaker was sitting on information in an effort to sidestep a very expensive repair process.

Late last year, Hyundai filed a court injunction to stop Kim from posting the documents, later suing him for breach of trust. A police investigation ensued. The automaker fired the engineer last November, but the legal battle didn’t end until the country’s Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission ruled he should be given his job back. Returning to work in April, Kim lasted a month before handing in his resignation today. In response, the automaker agreed to end all legal action against him.

“I will be the first and last whistleblower in South Korea’s auto industry,” Kim said yesterday. “There are just too many things to lose. I had a normal life and was better off, but now I’m fighting against a big conglomerate.”

[Image: Hyundai Motor America]

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  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on May 17, 2017

    Honda also had the issue with there 2.0 Civic engine prompting them to call back 42,129 to inspect the motors for missing or incorrectly installed wrist pin circlip's. A colleague at work has a 2016 that had to have his engine replaced with only 700 miles on the clock. He had to wait until the middle of Summer before a new engine was delivered to the dealer. these things do happen to most manufacturers.

    • Johnds Johnds on May 18, 2017

      I had a free rental from honda for 5 months for my airbags. I wonder why he couldn't have the same?

  • Cartunez Cartunez on May 17, 2017

    Hopefully the guy is not struggling financially otherwise every owner should chip in for a gofundme for him.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂