The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has said that a whistleblower has been awarded a record USD 24 million for providing key information related to the safety of vehicles manufactured by Hyundai and Kia. The whistleblower revealed that Hyundai and Kia moved very slowly to address issues linked with Theta II engines. The companies did this despite the fact that engines were prone to catching fire or could freeze up. The whistleblower was an ex-employee of Hyundai. Kim Gwang-ho said that deliberately moved slow on recalling more than 1 million vehicles with faulty engines. Kim was a motor engineer at the South Korean motor company.
Law firm Constantine Cannon said that the award given to Kim is the biggest ever to any whistleblower in the auto sector globally. It must be noted that Constantine Cannon had represented Kim. Also, this is the first time when NHTSA has paid an award to any whistleblower. The announcement comes at a time when the US Department of Transportation along with the NHTSA is planning to propose regulations in the automotive whistleblower program that was created in 2015 by Congress. NHTSA also said in a statement that the award given to Kim is the maximum percentage that has been allowed to by law.
“Whistleblowers have been playing a very important role in bringing information to NHTSA. The information shared is usually related to serious safety problems. Most of the time the agency is not aware of those things,” said NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator Steven Cliff. Kim had brought the issues to the notice of the regulator in 2016. Kim sighted an internal report of Hyundai to inform NHTSA that the Korean company failed to take enough measures to address the engine fault. NHTSA later found that the automaker delayed recalling affected vehicles. Also, it provided wrong information about the faults. It was in 2020 when US units of Kia and Hyundai agreed to pay penalties after NHTSA said that both companies failed to recall vehicles on time.