French Government ordered by court to rethink ban on Mercedes-Benz vehicles

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The 2013 Mercedes Benz A-Class, one of the vehicles affected.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz luxury cars has found itself in the middle of a legal battle with the French government after the environmental ministry stopped registering cars whose air-conditioning coolant does not comply with the European Union’s regulations.

The scandal erupted when Daimler, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, became the third German firm to reject the refrigerant called HFO-1234yf, a substance scheduled to be adopted by manufacturers in the European Union by 2017.

Although the new coolant is thought to reduce CO2 emissions, Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen have all opposed the usage of the product, citing flammability concerns. Daimler engineers allege that the  HFO-1234yf could spark a fire under the hood, potentially igniting the entire car and emitting highly toxic gasses in the process.

In 2007-2009, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) conducted a comprehensive research program to assess the safety of HFO-1234yf. The program was sponsored by several car makers, including BMW, Audi, Daimler, Toyota, Renault, among others. The report concluded that HFO-1234yf “can be used as the global replacement refrigerant in as the global replacement refrigerant in future mobile air conditioning systems and it can be safely accommodated through established industry standards and practices for vehicle design, engineering, manufacturing, and service.”

Despite these findings however, Daimler and BMW left the group due to internal concerns about vehicle safety, along with Volkswagen’s Audi division. All three dismissed the proposed adoption of HFO-1234yf as a new refrigerant.

The German manufacturers were supported by German ministers who wrote to the European Union’s Industry Commissioner, Antonio Tajan, asking for a suspension of the law. However, the industry boss denied this request, stating that “the directive is in force and has been since January 1. There is no extension. The directive must be respected throughout the European Union.”

The European Union is not forcing companies to use the new HFO-1234yf, but rather imposing strict rules on the potency of any fluid used. The law states that no coolant can be no more than 150 times the global warming potential of CO2. The problem for car manufacturers, however, is that the only currently available liquid within these limits is the Honeywell-developed HFO-1234yf, and is far more environmentally friendly than the old standard R1234a, which is 1,000 times as potent as CO2.

For any car manufacturer, developing a new coolant would be an expensive and long process and not an appealing option at this time.

On the June 19, the French government began blocking the registration of some new Daimler Mercedes cars, assembled since June 12, according to Daimler. This decision came as a surprise, especially since Germany had ignored the European Union’s directive and continued to register the cars. It was assumed that France would follow suit.

Despite Daimler insistence that it is working on its own coolant, one that would suit both EU environmental restrictions and their own health and safety guidelines, the question of what to do in the meantime is difficult.

Autoblog reported that other EU countries may follow France’s lead in refusing to register the vehicles after a meeting two weeks ago where representatives from 28 members agreed that all vehicles sold in the EU must conform to the law. In addition, as in France, vehicles sold with the outlawed R134a must be withdrawn.

Daimler has warned that the ban may detract from its global sales by two percent.

On Thursday, July 25, however, an administrative court in Versailles ordered France’s environment ministry to re-examine its decision to stop the registration of new Mercedes cars, but did not demand the resumption of registration automatically as Daimler had hoped.

According to Daimler’s court documents, the registration ban has prevented the delivery of more than 4,500 cars to customers in France, prompting the company on Friday, July 26, to sue the France government over the ban.

Trackbacks

  1. […] manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz automobiles has found itself in the middle of a legal battle with the French government after the environmental ministry stopped registering cars whose air-conditioning coolant does not […]

  2. […] feud between Mercedes’ parent company Daimler and European authorities began in June, when the auto manufacturer refused to adopt the European Union’s new standard refrigerant, citing flammability […]

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