Commission takes Germany to court over Daimler refrigerant

Germany accepted the request from Daimler AG to approve new vehicles under a system which allowed the car marker to circumvent the application of the EU rules. [Michiel Dijcks]

The European Commission has finally decided to take Germany to the EU Court of Justice, after Berlin allowed Daimler AG to use a banned refrigerant for the cars’ air-conditioned system and helped the car marker to cheat EU regulations.

The Commission found that the German government has infringed the 2006 Directive on mobile air conditioning systems, by allowing the company to place automobile vehicles on the EU market with a refrigerant 1000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, in May 2014, the German authorities accepted a request from Daimler AG to approve new vehicles under an existing type approval, which allowed the car marker to circumvent the application of the directive.

In a press statement published today (10 December), the executive explained that despite discussions with German authorities, in the context of this infringement procedure, which started last year, Germany has turned a deaf ear to its demands, and has not taken any further steps against the issuing of the type-approval of non-compliant motor vehicles, and “has not taken appropriate remedial action on the manufacturer”.

>>Read: German MEPs oppose stricter car emissions tests

Berlin’s cozy relationship with its automotive industry comes again under the spotlight, on the same day that Volkswagen was expected to announce the results of its internal investigation, on the cheating scandal affecting its diesel vehicles.

>>Read: Dieselgate exposes member state opposition to emissions curbs

Daimler argued that the allowed coolant (R1234yf) can cause fire in front-end collisions. Although last October the company said that it will comply with the legal provisions from 2017, the European Commission is concerned about all the vehicles in place, and the lack of action, in the meantime

Moreover, the Commission does not share Daimler AG’s safety concerns. They were rejected by Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, KBA) and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC), which undertook an additional risk analysis in 2014. 

This latest case overshadows the rather positive news from Volkswagen, as the company has dramatically cut the number of vehicles affected by errors in measuring C02 emissions from 800,000 to 36,000

>>Read: VW scandal widens with new CO2 revelations

The EU directive on mobile air conditioning systems prescribes the use of motor vehicles’ refrigerants with less global warming potential and the phasing out of certain fluorinated greenhouse gases, in particular the refrigerant R-134a. Only refrigerant R1234yf is allowed.

The Commission found that, after January 2011, Daimler AG continued to produce and sell cars type-approved for the use of the gas R-1234yf while using the banned gas R-134a.

The German authorities did not take any action, by ordering Daimler AG to recall the vehicles, or requesting the necessary technical adaptations to ensure full compliance with EU law.

Daimler AG said that its Mercedes-Benz S- and E-Class will be equipped with air conditioning systems that meet all the relevant performance and safety requirements. 

El?bieta Bie?kowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, said in a recent speech at the Seminar on Autonomous Driving: "Since the Volkswagen fraud case emerged all eyes are on the automotive industry. It has highlighted the need for rapid regulatory reform and stronger enforcement action at all levels."

Directive 2006/40/EC on mobile air-conditioning systems (MAC Directive) stipulates that air conditioning systems in motor vehicles type-approved after 1 January 2011 may not be filled with fluorinated greenhouse gases with a global warming potential (GWP) higher than 150. This means that the use of refrigerant R-134a is not permitted for newly typeapproved motor vehicles in the EU and, due to current technical developments, only refrigerant R1234yf is allowed. From 1 January 2017, the use of fluorinated greenhouse gases with a GWP higher than 150 in all new vehicles put on the EU market will be totally banned.

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