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Mercedes face EU ban over aircon gas

B 200 CDI (W 246) 2011

B 200 CDI (W 246) 2011

Published Mar 25, 2013

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Thousands of new Mercedes-Benz are set to be banned from sale in Britain after they were declared ‘illegal’ by the EU.

The German luxury carmaker is embroiled in an extraordinary row with EU bureaucrats over a decision to force all car manufacturers to use a new ‘green’ air-conditioning gas.

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Mercedes has raised fears that the new coolant causes cars to catch fire.

But the European Commission warned this week that any carmaker refusing to install the gas faces a ban on selling cars across the Continent. British authorities are poised to suspend any new Mercedes registrations if they do not conform to the regulations.

All new Mercedes A-Class hatchbacks, B-Class MPV’s and SL roadster models will be affected because the manufacturer has failed to agree to the law, which came into effect on 1 January.

Most manufacturers have already complied with the directive.

In September 2012, howeever, Mercedes-Benz appealed to delay the implementation of the law. Internal tests by the company allegedly showed that 10 out of 14 cars using the new coolant caught fire when subjected to conditions that simulated the coolant leaking on to the engine in a front-end collision.

But the Commission last week rejected the claims and warned it was not possible for new cars to be sold within the EU if they did not conform to the legislation.

Implementing the directive could result in thousands of new cars being left on dealers’ forecourts, unable to be registered.

In an update last week, the European Commission said ‘controversial’ testing techniques by Mercedes-Benz were to blame for the findings and the UK department for transport would be fined if it allowed the company to sell the affected models.

It stated: “It is not possible for motor vehicles to be registered and marketed in the EU if they are not in conformity with the relevant legislation.”

The department for transport said it was monitoring the situation closely, but it could cost Mercedes almost £500 million (R7 billion) in lost sales in the UK and more across Europe.

Mercedes-Benz predicts sales of about 15 000 A-Class cars this year, which cost from £18 970 (R270 000). About 6 500 £21 000 (R300 000) B-Class models and an estimated 800 of the £72 550 (R1.02 million) SL roadsters are also expected to be bought by Britons - but all could remain unsold if authorities refuse to register them for the UK market.

‘HIGHLY FLAMMABLE’

Older models will be unaffected but from 2017 every vehicle released into the European car market must be gassed with the new coolant.

Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, claims its tests show the new air-con chemical is ‘highly flammable’, toxic and poses a danger to occupants and rescue services.

The European Commission is now involved in 11th-hour talks with Mercedes.

Volkswagen, which owns the Audi, Porsche and Skoda brands, has also refused to install the new coolant.

However, VW has insisted its engineers have designed a new coolant using carbon dioxide which adheres to the European environmental guidelines and is in advanced talks to use the new variant.

DECLARATION OF WAR

Mercedes claims it has instructed its engineers to design a similar chemical but the Commission denies knowledge of the plans.

Critics have accused Mercedes of putting costs ahead of global climate concerns because the new coolant is more expensive.

EU parliametarian Chris Davies, who helped to draft the new law, said: “This amounts to a declaration of war on Daimler. It is widely believed Daimler is trying to avoid paying extra costs of about £20 (R300) per vehicle.

“The Commission’s briefing makes clear that new models using the old refrigerant should not be sold. “

CARBON DIOXIDE

Professor Thomas Weber, from Daimler, claimed the company was in the process of producing a new coolant using carbon dioxide which would be approved by the European Commission.

He said: “Daimler has examined all possible options very closely over recent months and worked with the other manufacturers within the German Association of the Automotive Industry to find a solution that is acceptable to all.

“These efforts have shown clearly that CO2, is by far the most promising solution, as it is environmentally acceptable and safe. We have given our engineers the clear commission to develop the CO2 air-conditioning system.”

“The safety of all road users is paramount.”

A department for transport spokesman said: “We have seen no evidence that the air-conditioning fluid in this case poses any risk in appropriately designed vehicles. We continue to monitor this issue and the European Commission is leading a review to ensure a consistent approach for all vehicle manufacturers and purchasers.’

The European Commission said it would not take action against anyone who has bought one of the affected Mercedes models since 1 January . But a spokesman said it would continue to appeal to countries to enforce the legislation and ban future registration of all new vehicles that do not contain the new coolant gas. - Mail On Sunday

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