When it first admitted 18 months ago that it had cheated on diesel emissions tests, a humbled, penitent Volkswagen promised both a full accounting of what had happened and a change in its behavior going forward.
But we now see that Volkswagen's concept of responsibility for its misdeeds seems to tail off the further up the corporate ladder investigators go.
The automaker continues to claim that it is "fully cooperating" with investigators. But if it were, why would investigators in Germany feel compelled to raid VW and Audi offices, the homes of high-ranking executives and the offices of the U.S. law firm VW hired in September 2015 to conduct an internal investigation?
VW's current and former executives are willing to offer gestures of contrition, spend tens of billions on fines, settlements and restitution, and even offer up lower-tier employees as sacrificial lambs to satiate global demand for justice -- as long as that demand stops before it reaches them.
Consider the automaker's March 10 guilty plea to three felonies in a federal courtroom in Detroit.
General counsel Manfred Doess -- appearing in court on behalf of the corporation -- was clear: "Volkswagen is pleading guilty," he said, "because it is guilty."
Such admissions are, of themselves, an honorable change from a few years ago, when VW was still actively engaged in deceiving regulators. But Doess also tacked on a disclaimer that the transgressions occurred "below the level" of VW's management board, seeking to shield VW's decision-makers from personal responsibility.
We'll have to take his word for it, won't we? The company also initially promised that the results of its internal investigation -- conducted by the U.S. law firm Jones Day -- would be shared with the world, as well as with investigators. But investigators from Bavaria raided Jones Day's German offices this month in part because those findings haven't fully been shared with the public, leaving outsiders to ask: Why not?
VW is doing what it can to move on from the diesel scandal. But "moving on" means more than entering pleas and paying fines. It means being transparent and forthright with the facts, even if they lead to places you don't want to go.