Safety engineer, Kim Gwang-ho, who’s based in Seoul, capital of South Korea, was awarded $24 million by the US auto regulator NHTSA. The award was as a result of a report he made back in 2016 about a design flaw in Hyundai-Kia Theta II engines that the company had failed to address.
Over a million cars were recalled whose models included the Sonata sedan and Santa Fe SUV. Their 2.0 liter and 2.4 liter engines could premature fail and sometimes even catch fire. According to NHTSA, Hyundai delayed car recalls and “inaccurately reported crucial information” about the engines. This subsequently led to the auto maker to pay penalties to the US, specifically Hyundai paid $54 million in civil penalties and invest $40 million to improve safety operations while Kia, Hyundai’s subsidiary, had to pay $27 million in penalties and invest $16 million on safety measures. The penalties from both automakers totaled $81 million of which $24 million was given to Kim.
Back in 2015, a law was passed that incentivizes insiders to give information in exchange for 30% of the penalties paid by the accused. This is the first time the NHTSA has given out a whistle-blower award under this law.
“Whistleblowers play a crucial role in bringing information to NHTSA about serious safety problems that are hidden from the agency,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff in a statement. “This information is critical to public safety and we are committed to rewarding those who bring information to us.”
Kim commented “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.”