by Jacques Gordon
An article appearing on June 13 in the German online news magazine Der Spiegel reports that EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani has given the German government ten weeks to initiate sanctions against Daimler for continuing to use an air conditioning refrigerant which has been prohibited by EU law in specific models. The magazine quotes the commissioner as saying “If Germany does not respect the law, we are forced to formally initiate an infringement procedure.”
Although the Commissioner had issued a similar threat a few months back, this statement marks a definite increase in pressure as it includes a deadline. In a letter sent to Berlin, Tajani says “We have thus set in motion the procedure” to open dialogue with the German authorities.
The action is a result of Daimler’s use of R-134a refrigerant in cars that should be using refrigerant that meets EU regulations that took effect this past January. In those regulations, any new vehicle platform introduced for the 2013 model year must use an air conditioning refrigerant with a Global Warming Potential rating of no greater than 150. The current refrigerant’s GWP rating is roughly 1400. A newly developed refrigerant, R-1234yf, has a GWP of only 4 and is commercially available for automotive air conditioning. Although it had been extensively tested and declared acceptable by all of the world’s automakers, including Daimler, that company carried out separate tests in which the new refrigerant ignited. The flammability of the refrigerant (when mixed with compressor lubricant) is well understood, and other automakers have found the risk no greater and or more difficult to manage than that posed by other flammable materials used in every automobile.
However, as a result of their own in-house testing, Daimler has announced they will continue to use R-134a until they develop an alternate refrigerant or air conditioning technology that will be ready when the ban on R-134a in all new vehicles becomes effective in 2016. After Daimler’s announcement, several other German automakers announced their solidarity with Daimler, although they have not released any new platforms this year and are not yet in violation of the law. According to the article in Der Spiegel, the German government shares the concerns of Mercedes, so the EU commissioners in Brussels are also “at loggerheads” with the German government. German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer says it does not make sense to force the automobile manufacturers to use R-1234yf “before eliminating the risks.” However the EU Commission has answered these comments by point out that they have not required the use of any particular refrigerant, but have only prohibited the use of R-134a in new platforms launched this year. “If Mercedes does not comply with this obligation, its new models will not be admitted (for sale in Europe). The Commission must punish a violation of European law.”
The magazine also reports that the German transport authority will conduct additional crash tests in the coming weeks using different car models. Both Government and automakers have made it clear in the past that they want to await the outcome of this investigation before they decide on the further use of R-1234yf.
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