“Cool War” continues: Standoff between EU and Germany on MAC refrigerant

By Elke Milner, Apr 11, 2014, 15:41 3 minute reading

Lately, the automotive refrigerant rivalry has been heating up, especially in Europe. In January, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against Germany for its refusal to enforce the MAC Directive, a refusal sparked by tests conducted by Daimler AG on refrigerant R1234yf. Germany has responded with a letter to the European Union.

With the MAC Directive in full force and the near finalisation of the F-gas Regulation Review, there has been a push for new, environmentally friendly refrigerants across the globe. For mobile air conditioning (MAC) the controversial refrigerant R1234yf has been hitting the headlines. In September 2012 Daimler AG (followed soon after by Volkswagen Group) raised concerns about the safety of HFC 1234yf and declared that it would continue to use R134a while it develops CO2 mobile air conditioning systems for future fleets. 
The European Commission initiated investigations and eventually infringement proceedings against Germany, and warnings have been issued to Belgium, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom threatening legal action over sales of Daimler’s vehicles. 
Germany has stood behind Daimler and the OEM’s decision to develop MAC systems using climate friendly CO2, which it considers safer than R1234yf. 
Germany’s response
The German government has now sent its long awaited response to Brussels. In the letter, the German government all but blames the EU for the controversy. Central to the German argument against the EU’s accusations lies a MAC Directive loophole:  a transitional period for the refrigerant R134a was approved by the EU until 1 January 2011, but technically, this policy can be bypassed until the end of 2016.
While R1234yf fulfills the requirements of the MAC Directive, Daimler’s tests of the substance found it to be flammable and otherwise dangerous in certain scenarios, and the German letter to the EU states that there is still the possibility that R1234yf could present further dangers. 
Concerns lie in consumer safety
In response to an inquiry from the German Left Party, the German government explained that it isn’t pushing for a mandatory labelling of safety risks for vehicles containing the refrigerant (this is left to the individual states) or even for a ban of refrigerant R1234yf. Nevertheless, a review of the substantive chemicals of the compound carried out by German authorities in the context of the Community Rolling Action Plan under REACH, is still incomplete because additional information is required to assess the risks of R1234yf.
According to lawyer Karina Hellbert (AUTO BILD), who specialises in product liability, under Directive 2001/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on general product safety, automobile manufacturers would be held liable for damages if in an accident people are injured or even killed because of the refrigerant. Even in the case of accidents, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that all aspects of a product are safe before it is put on the market. 
Hellbert further elaborates that, in the case of injuries or deaths caused by R1234yf, car manufacturers could not deny knowing the dangers the refrigerant might pose, as the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Motor Vehicle Office) reported that tests of vehicles equipped with R1234yf, in certain scenarios, lead to full ignition of the engine bay with the formation of hydrogen fluoride (HF) in considerable amounts.
A European commissioner confirmed receipt of the German government’s letter on 26 March. If the two parties fail to reach an agreement, Germany faces the second stage of the infringement procedure, which could end in a financial penalty for Germany.
R744.com would like to know what our readers think
How do you anticipate this “Cool War” will unfold? Will the resistance of Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the UK be enough to make significant advances on the MAC CO2 front? Please share your opinion in the comments!


By Elke Milner

Apr 11, 2014, 15:41

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