After the smoke, or oxides of nitrogen, cleared last week, after the TV networks moved on and after Volkswagen Group finished cleaning house, one question lingered in the polluted air: How?
How had a peerless automotive organization known for setting outrageous goals -- then exceeding them -- slipped so low?
How could CEO Martin Winterkorn, known as a quality fanatic, have been unaware of such an egregious lapse in quality control?
How was Volkswagen -- the great collector of brands, the great acquirer of talent, the great symbol of German engineering proficiency -- suddenly the perpetrator of what former Renault boss Louis Schweitzer called the greatest fraud in the industry's history?
The answers might be as complex as the software used to corrupt those 11 million VW vehicles.
Maybe Volkswagen's plunge into the moral abyss was the work of a rogue engineer, or team of engineers, who went out of bounds and gamed the system.
Or perhaps it was a pressure to perform when global platforms are bigger, deadlines tighter, stakes higher. In the race to satisfy emissions regulations, cut weight and meet huge targets, cutting a corner is tempting when the culture doesn't permit failure. The "fraudware" (as one colleague coined it last week) becomes the ultimate work-around: An engineering team realizes the program won't make the cut, but with the product gate closing, the team opts for a temporary "just-fix-it" solution hoping no one will ever notice.
Or maybe it's simpler. Maybe, in the quest for No. 1, the pursuit claims another.
VW's push to be the world's top automaker -- a position rife with peril, as General Motors and Toyota can attest -- was so strong, so intense that Winterkorn, a former soccer goalie, was relentless (and VW became reckless).
His goal of overtaking Toyota Motor Corp. as the world's No. 1 carmaker resulted in unachievable goals, even for VW: tripling U.S. market share using an American-built car (the Passat) so anonymous it couldn't possibly have been a VW and a marketing plan to separate itself from Toyota -- clean diesels. Gulp.
And who would argue?
In the cult-of-personality environment stretching from former Chairman Ferdinand Piech to Winterkorn, admitting failure in any program, at any level, became taboo.
That created a culture that pressured workers to bend the rules to meet goals, run faster and work harder.
Is that how? Likely.
Or maybe the answer is Wolfsburg itself.
As a reporter in Germany 10 years ago, I saw firsthand how the small headquarters town near the former East Germany breeds insularity. It was obvious from the first trip through the city gates.
The Volkswagen soccer arena sat near the VW factory where currywurst sausage was proudly cooked by employees in VW attire.
There were VW cabs, VW museums and a VW experience center where VW customers could pick up their VW cars after a night at the VW-owned Ritz-Carlton.
You couldn't help but drink the VW water, because it was VW water.
Executives who joined VW from another company abhorred the idea of living in Wolfsburg; they opted instead for Berlin, an hour to the east.
More to the point, you couldn't tell anyone in Wolfsburg that there was another way to make a car; they simply knew better.
But we do know that model cracked last week. And some of the same elements that created that VW air of engineering superiority somehow ended up ripping it apart.