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EC ‘declaration of war’ on Daimler for defiant stance on refrigerants

The European Commission has warned that new model types of Daimler cars put on the market anywhere in Europe currently do not conform to EU law and therefore should not be sold.

The tough line follows German carmaker’s continued refusal to convert its cars from R134a refrigerant, putting them at odds with the Mobile Air Conditioning Directive.

HFO 1234yf is currently the only available feasible alternative that can comply with the MAC Directive’s GWP limit of 150.

The Commission is being urged by MEPs to make an example of the car manufacturer and to enforce the MAC Directive. At its most severe, this could see an insistence that road licensing authorities across Europe refuse to register new models of cars containing R134a.

As it stands, this would mean that Daimler could not sell its proposed new A and B Class Mercedes in Europe.

The Department of Transport in the UK said it is monitoring the situation, saying “The safety of all road users is paramount. However, we have seen no evidence the fluid in this case poses any risk in appropriately designed vehicles.”

The EC would also levy fines against the German authorities under EC infringement rules, and the authorities would then be “obliged to take action against the manufacturer directly”.

Despite industry expectation that it would relax its position so as to appease the German government, the commission has indicated it would be holding to its tough line on enforcing the directive.

MEP Chris Davies, who was involved in drafting the MAC directive, described the EC line as a “declaration of war on Daimler…which could inflict huge damage upon Daimler’s finances and reputation.”

In the commission’s briefing answering MEPs’ questions, it states: “If one manufacturer uses gas R134a in MAC systems of a vehicle type approved after 1 January 2011, then this vehicle  will not be in conformity with the directive and therefore member states should apply appropriate corrective measures.”

Daimler has lobbied hard to be allowed to continue using R134a despite its GWP being over 300 times greater than HFO 1234yf. Daimler maintains the HFO is unsafe in a head-on collision, igniting under its tests, whereas R134a did not.

However, the commission briefing said that cars contain many inflammable products and implies that if there is an additional risk in Daimler vehicles, it is because of the design of its cars.

The commission said: “Vehicle manufacturers are well equipped to deal with flammable substances… Furthermore, the testing procedures by Daimler are controversial: several manufacturers and other stakeholders have challenged their relevance in real-life situations.

“Therefore, the ‘serious risks’ referred may be associated to specific MAC systems in specific vehicles.”

Experts say that the Germans  will need a number of years to make the use of CO2 feasible for global car production.

Critics including Mr Davies have suggested that Daimler has used the stance to avoid making expensive design changes to its cars and is thus being anti-competitive.

Mr Davies said: “The commission’s briefing makes clear that new models using the old refrigerant should not be sold. This could hit Daimler’s sales of cars very seriously indeed.

“It is widely believed that Daimler has been making claims about the safety of the new refrigerant in order to try and  avoid paying extra costs of about €20 per vehicle. If this is the case it was a grievous mistake and the company’s revenue could be very severely reduced.

“Car manufacturers have known of the new requirements for more than 10 years, and others have  had no problems in using the  new refrigerant.”

Mr Davies made clear he thought it was time for the EC to put a stop to the stalling.

“I am calling on Commissioner Tajani to start infringement proceedings not only against Germany but against every EU country that allows the sale of new Daimler models that are not in conformity with the law,” he said.

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