South Korea's Kia Faces a Federal Safety Probe

Kia Soul
Kia Soul

Toyota Motor (TM) and, to a lesser extent, Honda Motor (HMC) have made headlines in recent months for the sheer volume of safety recalls involving the companies' vehicles. Consumer concern about the Japanese makes' commitment to safety and quality have been a boon for South Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, which have seen sales steadily increase this year. Sales last month in the U.S. were the second best on record for the manufacturers, both units of Hyundai Kia Automotive Group.

Kia, however, may soon the face the sort of scrutiny directed at Toyota and Honda. The National Highway Safety Administration on Monday said it's begun a preliminary investigation into steering problems involving the 2010 Kia Soul, the company's entry into the increasingly competitive "box" car field. Competitors in this small-car "rolling bread box" segment include the Nissan Cube, Honda Element and Toyota's Scion xB.

NHTSA has thus far only received one complaint involving the Soul, but it's a biggie, USA Today notes. The paper reports that the complaint claims "the steering shaft de-coupled from the hand wheel resulting in a complete loss of steering capability." Further, "the de-coupled steering shaft reportedly fell into a position that interfered with brake pedal application."

The vehicle involved had been in use for about two months and had about 4,300 miles on the odometer when the incident supposedly happened, NHTSA says. In the online posting, the agency said its defect-investigations unit "is very concerned about this failure in that it occurred without warning on a new vehicle at low mileage and resulted in a complete loss of steering as well as a compromised brake system."

A preliminary evaluation by NHTSA is the first step in a process that may or may not lead to a recall.

Nearly 37,000 of 2010 model year Souls have been sold so far this year in the U.S., according to sales figures released by Kia earlier this month.