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Merc coolant row: Recall threat?

2014-01-24 10:29

COOLANT ROW RUMBLES ON: Mercedes-Benz has come under fire for continuing to use a banned vehicle coolant. Image: MERCEDES-BENZ

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Germany has been given two months to address EU concerns over a banned car coolant still used in Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

The European Commission has has threatened legal action if Berlin fails to answer adequately.

At stake is the vehicle refrigerant R134a banned by the European Union for being harmful to the environment. Berlin has refused to enforce the ban because the EU's alternative, R1234yf, has been deemed flammable and unsafe.

LEGAL LOOPHOLE

Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, continues to use the old refrigerant in some of its new vehicles, circumventing the ban by using old certifications valid until 2016.

France upped the stakes in 2013 by temporarily blocking the registration of compact Mercedes cars.

The commission, the EU's executive, is now taking German authorities to task for having allowed the back and forth between different certifications, in what it believes was an attempt to bypass the ban.

If Germany has to reverse the move will have to recall 133 000 cars.

The company said that introducing an environmentally friendly and safe coolant was of the "highest priority". Daimler said: "We see no reason for a recall."

‘WE DON’T CONSIDER IT DANGEROUS’

EU spokesman Olivier Bailly said: “The commission sent a letter of formal notice, allowing Berlin to prove that it has taken the necessary measures to be in compliance with EU law.

"If we're not convinced, then we formally open the infringement procedure ... where we ask the member state to change its law."

The process could also result in court proceedings and hefty fines. The commission justified its move by noting the "German approval authorities opted not to react" when vehicles "not in conformity with EU law were placed on the EU market by a German manufacturer".

EU industry commissioner Antonio Tajani said it was still possible to reach a solution with Germany. Tajani insisted that R1234yf was safe: "We don't consider it dangerous. Safety is the most important problem for me."

The German Transport Ministry said there were still "many questions" surrounding the coolant's risk. Daimler contends that it could harm passengers and firefighters should it ignite. German media have reported that test crashes led to fires and the release of hydrofluoric acid, a substance that can permanently damage the lungs and eyes and even dissolve glass.

‘NO REASON FOR RECALL’

Honeywell, maker of of R1234yf, has accused Germany's motor transport authorities of having specifically designed the tests to produce the fiery results. The ministry also defended the use of the old certifications, insisting that was not meant to skirt the EU's environmental rules.

Honeywell said: "It meets safety concerns about the use of the new refrigerant." 

Both Daimler and the ministry also pointed out that the use of old certifications was not uncommon in Europe. The EU had doubts about the intent behind the move in Germany.
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