SEOUL – Kia Motors Corp. has come under harsh criticism from a powerful Korean government watchdog agency for failing to notify customers of a serious engine defect in LPG (liquid propane gas)-powered Optima sedans.

Korea’s Ministry of Construction and Transportation has ordered Kia, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd., to immediately recall LPG-engine equipped models to replace faulty electric fan motor bearings that can erupt into flame.

The forced recall involves 14,044 cars produced between August 2000 and August 2001. Kia has been ordered to make all necessary repairs at its own expense through March 2003, utilizing all of its 120 service and repair shops throughout Korea.

“Kia has been aware of the defect but had refused to recall the models voluntarily because of concerns that it would adversely impact the company’s image and sales,” the ministry official says.

“The company has been fixing defective models only on an informal basis as individuals complained,” he adds. “It has informed taxi drivers and a few owners about the defect but has taken no action to advise a majority of the owners.”

In addition to ordering a compulsory recall of all of the defective cars, the ministry has ordered Kia to punish company officials responsible for concealing the problem cars.

Kia also must immediately repair a switch defect on its 1.8L Carens model. The switch controls the flow of LPG into the engine but is so positioned within the passenger compartment that the driver’s knee can accidentally activate it and immediately stop the engine.

Additionally, the ministry has ordered Kia to repair defective hand brakes on its Carnival minivans.