Federal safety officials have opened an investigation into a complaint about the steering system in Kia's small car Soul by a driver who claimed that he lost control of his car after the steering wheel came off.
Although normally a single complaint is unlikely to trigger a safety probe, the incident is cause for concern because "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," according to a statement released Monday by safety regulators.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said an owner of a 2010 Kia Soul reported that the steering shaft decoupled from the steering wheel as the vehicle was being driven, resulting in a complete loss of control. Additionally, the driver said the decoupled steering shaft fell into a position that interfered with the ability to apply the brakes.
The complaint said the vehicle was 2 months old and had 4,300 miles of use when the steering mechanism failed.
Kia said in a statement that it was "actively cooperating" with federal investigators and that "although the investigation is based on a single incident that did not result in an accident or injury, the entire Kia Motors organization — including our supplier base — is reviewing manufacturing processes with the goal of quickly determining if there is a manufacturing cause and preventing the issue from reoccurring."
The cube-shaped Soul is known as a brisk-selling small specialty car. Kia calls it an "urban passenger vehicle" and has built an upbeat advertising campaign using computer-animated hamsters to pitch the car. Year to date, Kia has sold almost 37,000 of the vehicles, and they outsell other specialty cars that are more iconic, such as the Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen Beetle.
The Soul was recently named to the "2010 Top 10 Back-to-School Cars" list for the second year in a row by Kelley Blue Book, the auto-pricing information company.
It's one of a number of models that has helped the South Korean automaker increase its share of the U.S. auto market over the last year. Kia's sales have risen by more than 16% through the first seven months of this year to more than 205,000 vehicles, according to Autodata Corp. Its market share has edged up to 3.1% from 3.0% in the same period a year earlier.