NEW YORK (Kyodo) Nissan Motor Co.’s 2002-2003 model Maxima sedan was the second most popular target for thieves among 2001-2003 model vehicles sold in the United States, the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Tuesday.

The association of car insurance companies said that the theft claim frequency for the Maxima was 17 per 1,000 insured vehicles, compared with an average of 2.5 for all cars.

General Motors Corp.’s 2002-2003 Cadillac Escalade EXT luxury pickup topped the list with a theft claim rate of 20.2.

The theft claim frequency for the Maxima increased dramatically after Nissan began making expensive high-intensity discharge headlights, which are five times brighter than other headlights, a standard feature in 2002, the institute said.

“Investigators tell us the high-intensity discharge headlights are often stolen because they fit into earlier Maximas that were sold without such lights,” said Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the institute.

The Maxima model was redesigned for 2004 and its new headlight assemblies do not fit previous models.

“It’s too early to tell if the 2004s will still have a theft problem,” Hazelbaker said.

In March, the state of New Jersey filed a damages suit against Nissan, claiming the automaker failed to tell owners that their cars could become theft targets.

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