UPDATE 1-Commission backs France in Daimler coolant row

Tue Jul 16, 2013 1:29pm EDT

* EU industry chief says French sales ban may be legal

* Assessment could see more EU countries block sales

* Member states to discuss row in Brussels on Wednesday

BRUSSELS/STUTTGART, July 16 (Reuters) - The European Commission has given provisional backing to France's decision to block the sale of most of new Daimler AG Mercedes models after Germany allowed the company to use a banned coolant in its cars.

The Commission's assessment is a blow for Berlin and Daimler and could also open the way for similar restrictions on Mercedes sales by other EU countries.

"Currently in the European market there are vehicles produced by this manufacturer that, according to the preliminary Commission analysis, are not in conformity with their type-approval," EU industry chief Antonio Tajani said in a statement on Tuesday.

Further assessment is needed to determine if some Daimler cars produced since May under a previous approval granted by the German authorities are also illegal, Tajani said. Any vehicles that do not conform cannot be sold or registered in Europe.

As a result, France's refusal to register Mercedes A-Class, B-Class and SL cars assembled since June 12 may be considered legal under existing EU rules, provided the right procedures are followed, Tajani said.

Daimler has said the refusal to phase out the banned coolant R134a - a potent global warming agent - is justified by safety concerns over the only available replacement, Honeywell International Inc's R1234yf.

A Daimler spokesman said the cars had been approved by the German authority, the KBA. "Our cars have a valid, European-wide permit. Nothing should stand in the way of their being registered."

Based on 2012 deliveries, Daimler has said the French block could affect about 2 percent of its global sales, or 29,000 cars.

EU government officials are due to discuss the coolant row at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

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