The auto industry was rocked by things gone wrong in recent years: Toyota's unintended accelerations, General Motors' faulty ignition switches and Takata's exploding airbags.
But Volkswagen's admission it designed diesels to meet clean-air standards only during testing seems breathtaking in scope.
We don't know everything yet, notably, who inside VW authorized the cheating or knew about it over the last six years. Let's be candid. Volkswagen's actions differ from previous scandals. This wasn't VW doing the legal minimum, or finding a loophole or broadly interpreting a rule to gain an advantage.
This wasn't the unintended consequence of error or faulty calculation.
VW set out to break the rules. This was deliberate, premeditated illegal behavior on a global scale. Volkswagen cheated to sell 11 million vehicles worldwide with diesel engines that emit more toxins than advertised, with plans to keep selling millions more next year. The EPA says it questioned VW for a year and had to threaten not to certify 2016 diesel engines before the automaker admitted cheating.
That's breathtakingly brazen.
It's even more brazen for VW to market itself as the paragon of clean diesel while selling vehicles that spew up to 40 times the allowable level of toxins into air that everybody breathes.
It's a betrayal of trust.
The result is devastating to VW. There's the big financial hit to suppliers, dealers and shareholders, the morale blow to hardworking VW employees and the duped feeling VW owners are left with.
But the damage spreads much farther. VW's actions raise questions about how clean diesels can be and whether the auto industry can be trusted to be truthful.
When the U.S. scandal broke, Volkswagen quickly apologized, pledged dealer assistance, set aside $7.3 billion to remedy problems and ousted CEO Martin Winterkorn.
That's a start. VW still must completely root out all traces of cheating. But the entire industry must work harder to demonstrate it is worthy of the public's trust.