This is not just another recall where an automaker will have to weather a few days of negative headlines before the matter fades from the public's attention.
Over the weekend, Volkswagen took the highly unusual step of suspending sales of certain 2015 clean diesel models, while it figures out how to fix cars with software designed to cheat clean air standards.
It is still unclear how long the stop sale order will last for a number of Passat, Jetta, Golf, Beetle and Audi A3 models—vehicles that collectively account for about a quarter of Volkswagen's U.S. sales, according to the company.
But this scandal goes beyond a temporary sales halt.
Bernstein analyst Max Warburton, who has covered Volkswagen for years, said the automaker's diesel deception is likely to damage its business beyond a major fine—it could also cause serious injury to its reputation.
"The best case for VW is probably still a multibillion-dollar fine (the potential [$18 billion] reported may prove excessive, but a large penalty looks likely), pariah status in the U.S. with government (and possibly consumers), damage to its leading position in diesel in the U.S. and a slower path to improvement in its far-from-perfect North American business," Warburton said.