Toyota enjoys enormous sales due in part to a reputation for quality. A reputation contradicted by the "floor mat fiery death" problem. This timeline (click to enlarge) shows how long it took Toyota to react and recall millions of vehicles.
This isn't the first major Toyota recall or even the first time Toyota's response has been called into question. In 2006, the company's Hilux trucks experienced safety issues and Toyota was forced to recall more than a million of them. It took the company a long time to admit fault and they were criticized by the Japanese government for their foot-dragging.
Steps to correct the problem have come from Toyota since the death of a CHP officer and his family in a loaned Lexus in August. The 911-call from the officer claiming he couldn't brake or stop the car from accelerating made national news. A month later the Department of Transportation issued a recall on floor mats in certain Toyota and Lexus vehicles, thought to be at blame for the crash, and Toyota followed with a temporary fix until they issued the full recall last week.
Despite the recent flurry of activity, the timeline shows Toyota has been aware of the problem since at least April of last year.