Mercedes in war of words with EU over air-con chemicals
Cold War over refrigerants heats up
Mercedes is wading into a battle with the EU over the use of what are claimed to be illegal refrigerant chemicals in the air conditioning systems of its cars.
The EU had issued a directive which stated that by the end of January 2011, the refrigerant gas known as R134a should no longer be used in cars, but instead replaced with a new gas, known as R1234yf. Why? Because R134a has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) figure of 1,430, which essentially means it’s 1,430 times worse for the environment that carbon dioxide. R1234yf by contrast has a GWP of just four.
The EU gave car makers a two years grace period to change the gases, which ran out in January of this year.
Mercedes though has stuck to its guns over the use of R134a, saying that the replacement gas is both poisonous and can potentially start a fire if an air conditioning pipe splits or is torn in a front-end collision.
In a statement following a test at Mercedes’ HQ in Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, Walter Pütz, director of vehicle certification and regulatory affairs at Mercedes-Benz Cars said: “the whole vehicle can catch fire and the burning refrigerant generates acutely poisonous hydrogen fluoride which poses a severe danger to both passengers and rescue workers.”
Mercedes’ findings were backed up by the German Federal Environment Agency, the UBA, which said: “We have been warning about the dangers (of HF0-1234yf) for years. Daimler’s internal tests proved not only that our own fears were justified but also that we may even have underestimated the risks.”
Again, this would now seem to be cut and dried. Bin the dangerous new chemical and go back to using the old system until new Co2-based air conditioning systems have been developed, an avenue that Mercedes says it is actively pursuing.
That it seem is not enough though, and now Mercedes is running the risk of ultimately having sales of its cars banned in the EU, as well as having to recall all those cars sold since January of this year, because it is not complying with the directive. Admittedly it’s an unlikely proposition given the political clout of the three-starred badge but Chris Davies, a British Liberal Democrat MEP representing the north-west of the UK is personally taking Mercedes to task on this issue.
“EU environment laws only work if they are fair to everyone and by letting Daimler off, Germany is being unfair to manufacturers from France to Spain to the Czech Republic. Given the number of cars and car parts manufactured in my own North West England constituency I’m glad the Commission are taking a tough line,” says Mr Davies.
“We can’t build a stronger economy if some countries won’t play by the rules. A fine for Daimler won’t be enough - there needs to be a recall of all the illegal cars.”
Mr Davies told The Irish Times that Mercedes’ own tests are being rubbished by the rest of the car industry. “Every other car manufacturer in the world, or so I understand, believes that Daimler-Benz’s so-called tests are spurious, and so does the European Commission and international safety bodies. One interpretation of the Commission’s findings would be that Daimler-Benz has simply designed its cars badly, so that a refrigerant that presents no risk elsewhere might do so in its vehicles.