June 29, 2012 at 12:39 PM ET
Having hoped to put its embarrassing unintended acceleration scandal behind it, Lexus is now recalling two more models due to the possibility loose floor mats could cause accelerator pedals to jam, leading the vehicles to surge out of control.
The two models covered by the latest recall are the Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, with a total of nearly 134,000 vehicles involved. The new service actions are relatively modest when compared to the millions of vehicles covered by earlier sudden acceleration problems, but the latest recall puts Toyota back into the spotlight after having spent the last several years trying to rebuild its reputation for high quality and reliability.
“It was just beginning to fade from people’s memories,” said analyst Rebecca Lindland, of IHS Automotive. “This is like scratching an old wound.”
Arguably the worst public relations crisis in Toyota Motor Co. history began in mid-2009 when a California Highway Patrol officer and several family members were killed when a Lexus they had borrowed surged out of control, plunging off a highway and bursting into flames.
While Toyota had been facing accusations of unintended acceleration for some time the event led the automaker to order the recall of 3.8 million Lexus and Toyota brand vehicles because loose mats could catch under the accelerator pedal. Two months later it added a second callback, this one involving millions more vehicles equipped with potentially sticky accelerator assemblies.
Then, in early 2010, Toyota announced it would temporary halt production of some of its most popular vehicles to replace the accelerator units.
Further complicating matters, the maker was slammed by a series of unrelated problems, from steering issues with the Corolla or minivans that were experiencing severe corrosion problems. In all, Toyota was forced to recall more than 10 million vehicles – a company that was long known for bulletproof reliability ended the year with more recalls than any other manufacturer in the business.
Critics contended that the two recalls did not address all the problems allegedly causing Toyota products to race out of control. That possibility was raised during angry hearings on Capitol Hill in which Toyota President Akio Toyoda came under severe criticism.
Federal safety regulators also were targeted for allegedly going soft on the maker, secret documents suggesting Toyota had found ways to get the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to back down on one earlier safety problem, saving the company millions of dollars.
The government empowered two separate independent studies, one run by NASA, the other by the National Science Academy, looking into the possibility of unknown gremlins that might be causing Toyota’s electronic engine controllers to malfunction. Both studies cleared the maker – driver error taking the bulk of the blame.
But investigators also suggested it was possible that they simply hadn’t been able to isolate random electronic issues. That claim has been the centerpiece of extensive legal action aimed at Toyota by those claiming to have experienced unintended acceleration.
The latest recall harkens back to the very first Toyota ordered to deal with the “UA” issue, potential carpet entrapment forcing it to order repairs on 131,800 2010-model RX 350 crossovers and another 22,200 RX 450 hybrids.
“It will be interesting to see if that affects efforts to settle the ongoing legal problems,” said analyst Lindland.
Owners of the involved vehicles will receive a safety recall notification by first class mail in early August 2012. Lexus dealers will remedy the involved vehicles at no cost to the customers.
Information and answers to questions are available at or www.lexus.com/recall and Lexus Customer Satisfaction (1-800-255-3987).
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