At the time when Japan’s auto industry is at a critical juncture, it’s taking an off-road the nation doesn’t have time for.

The country’s carmakers have had their reputations dragged through the mud this week, with Toyota Motor and other firms announcing, following internal investigations sparked by after a similar brouhaha at Daihatsu Motor last year, that they had falsified parts of safety— certification tests.

In a surprise move, transport ministry officials raided their offices, a step usually reserved for more serious wrongdoing. The news reaction was predictable: Many foreign media outlets invoked the phrase "safety scandal,” while others termed it "massive cheating.” The domestic press was, if anything, harsher: "Toyota testing scandal leaves another stain on Japan auto industry,” said one outlet; another termed it "an unusual and shameful day in Japanese auto history.”