2009 Lexus ES 350

2009 Lexus ES 350

Last August Toyota stood before a crested wave of accelerator and floor-mat related recalls, the matter brought to a head by the death of an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family in a dealer-loaned Lexus ES 350. The crash was caused by incorrectly fitted all-weather floor mats, according to investigating police.

Toyota had known about the problem for years, having even issued a similar for floor mats trapping gas pedals recall in 2007. The recall for newer models affected by similar problems--and the then-undiscovered (and possibly still mythical) sticky accelerator pedals--would have to wait until Mark Saylor, his wife Chleofe, his daughter Mahala, and his brother-in-law Chris Lastrella died in a runaway dealer-loaned Lexus ES 350.

Within a month of the accident, Toyota had issued a "voluntary safety advisory" for improperly-fitted floor mats, followed by the infamous "zip-tie fix." Just over two months from the crash, Toyota initiated its full 3.8-million vehicle recall to fix the floor mat issue (the recall would later grow to include 5.4 million vehicles). Brake override systems were installed in new vehicles to counter unintended acceleration. The refrain: the floor mats are to blame for the unintended acceleration. No mention of sticky pedals as yet. In fact, the recall for 2.3 million vehicles affected by the sticking accelerator pedals would wait almost another three months, coming in late January 2010. You've read the rest of the recall story.

We're now over a year out from the accident, and three years from the previous unintended acceleration recall. Mark Saylor's family has received a settlement from Toyota in the lawsuit over their loved ones' deaths, amounting to $10 million. Toyota today issued a response to disclosure of the settlement amount, carefully neglecting to mention the dollar figure--which it fought to keep confidential--directly.

Toyota also takes pains to clarify that Bob Baker Lexus, the dealership that loaned the ill-fated ES 350 and installed its floor mats, is still fighting its own suits brought by family members of the deceased: "Mr. Baker now wants the amount publicized in an apparent effort to shift the focus away from his dealership as he continues to litigate this case with the families," the company wrote in its response.

The refrain, once again: blame the floor mats. Toyota sets out a three-bullet list of highlights from the police report about the accident, all pointing toward the mats as the problem and improper dealer installation as the cause. The point is a fair one: outside of a rigged TV stunt, there has been no solid evidence to suggest the accelerator pedal or its electronics are to blame in the known cases of unintended acceleration, and ample evidence that driver error is actually to blame.

Toyota has spent the entirety of 2010 either dealing with these issues or struggling to rise above them, and appears to have turned the corner in recent months, regaining consideration from buyers and reviving stagnated sales. Or so it seemed. These are Toyota's closing remarks in its response to the settlement disclosure:

"Our deepest sympathies remain with the friends and family of Mark, Cleofe and Mahala Saylor and Cleofe’s brother Chris Lastrella. However, as in the past, Toyota will continue to defend itself vigorously against the misleading allegations Bob Baker Lexus is making against Toyota."

The saga continues.