|A nice, clean family being sold a dirty diesel|
VW's slogan is "Das Auto", or "The Car". A car that some feel cheated over, because they were spending their 'hard earned' on a promise that turned out to be a lie. Audi's slogan is "Vorsprung Durch Technik", meaning "Advancement Through Technology". No one knew - outside of VW - that the advancement was through cheating tests.
A brand name is more than merely identification. It also represents values and wanting to be associated with those. When that trust has been broken, it does so much damage. You bought a car, thinking you got performance and economy with limited pollution. Now your car cannot provide all three. The third one was false. To correct that, you have to lose much of the first two. What was promised cannot be delivered. Not with the car the customer currently has anyway.
That will be expensive to fix but just correcting the cheating software is only part of it. In many places, customers can sue you for misrepresenting what was promised. That is only fair. Still more costly is the effect on your reputation. That takes so many years to establish but moments to lose. Some people feel it's a storm in a teacup, nothing too serious and blown out of proportion. Others are horrified and appalled. I'm of the latter persuasion.
Why risk so much for some sales? It may be rooted in a desire to win, and become the world's biggest car maker. Sports stars cheat with performing enhancing drugs to get an unfair advantage over their opponents. I think of Ben Johnson winning the sprint gold, only to find out he was 'assisted', or cheating. VW has done just that. Worse, it duped loyal customers with a blatant, self serving lie. How can anyone say that doesn't matter, or that it's no big deal?