A South Korean engineer who exposed safety issues at Hyundai and Kia was awarded $24 million by US auto regulators, and it marks an industry first… A former Hyundai Motors engineer was rewarded with $24 million for reporting safety violations committed by the South Korean carmaker, US auto regulators announced on Tuesday.
The money comes from $81 million in penalties paid to the US by Hyundai and its Kia subsidiary, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a statement. The engineer’s reward is the maximum 30% of the total fees that the organization is allowed by law to give whistleblowers.
It’s also the first time the administration has given out a whistleblower award, under a law passed in 2015 that incentivizes insiders to speak up about motor safety issues, said the NHTSA statement.
Safety engineer Kim Gwang-ho, who’s based in the South Korean capital of Seoul, made his report to the US in 2016, according to a statement by law firm Constantine Cannon, which represented him.
Kim revealed that Hyundai had failed to address a design flaw in its Theta II engines, which were seizing up and sometimes catching fire, said his lawyers.
“I am pleased that I have been justly compensated for the risks I took to protect owners of these defective cars, and grateful that the US’s legal system had a program in place to make this possible,” said Kim in the statement.
He also said he hopes his whistleblowing will help lead to “real safety improvements, both at Hyundai and throughout the industry.”
“At Hyundai, we often repeated the catchphrase: ‘Quality is our pride,'” said Kim. “I blew the whistle so Hyundai and Kia would keep this promise.”
The NHTSA said it issued consent orders to Hyundai and Kia in November 2020, assessing that the companies had delayed car recalls and “inaccurately reported crucial information” about the engines.
The carmakers were subsequently fined a total $210 million for violations concerning 1.6 million affected vehicles, Reuters reported.
“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.”
A spokesperson for Kia Motors declined to comment when Insider asked about its previous safety violations and Kim’s reward. Hyundai Motors did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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