EU seeks to defuse row over Mercedes air-conditioning coolant

BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT Tue Aug 6, 2013 1:17pm EDT

Emblems of German car Mercedes-Benz are pictured during a news conference about the new production line of the Mercedes-Benz S-class in Sindelfingen near Stuttgart, June 12, 2013. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Emblems of German car Mercedes-Benz are pictured during a news conference about the new production line of the Mercedes-Benz S-class in Sindelfingen near Stuttgart, June 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Tuesday it would mediate in a fierce row over air-conditioning coolant in Mercedes-Benz cars by refereeing safety tests.

The Commission, citing the need for a "confidence-building measure", said it wanted to guarantee the impartiality of an analysis of the coolant being carried out by Germany's motor vehicle department KBA and offered independent technical support for the investigation.

"The main objective will be reassuring manufacturers and the consumers that all means were invested to ensure the principles of objectivity and transparency in the risk assessments," a spokesman for Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Authorities in France have banned the sale of most of Daimler's (DAIGn.DE) new model Mercedes cars because they use a coolant whose properties do not comply with a new EU directive on global warming which came into force at the beginning of the year.

Daimler has said its refusal to phase out coolant R134a is justified by safety concerns over the only available replacement, Honeywell International Inc's (HON.N) R1234yf.

Daimler late last year recalled all Mercedes-Benz cars worldwide that used 1234yf, saying that crash simulations showed it was more flammable than first believed.

The German car maker says that, based on 2012 deliveries, the French block could affect about 2 percent of its global sales, or 29,000 cars.

Honeywell and its partner DuPont (DD.N) control the global supply of 1234yf which is forecast to racks up billions of dollars in sales.

The new EU directive says new cars must not use coolant with a global warming potential more than 150 times as great as that of carbon dioxide.

The old industry standard set the global warming potential at more than 1,000 times that of CO2, whereas Honeywell says its new product is only four times more potent.

KBA, the first official body to investigate the validity of Daimler's claims, has been heavily criticized by both sides over the secrecy of its tests, whose results are expected in the coming days.

The European Commission said results would only be published after a comparison was made between KBA's results and those of previous industry studies that concluded risks were only minimal.

Mercedes rival BMW (BMWG.DE) is using the new refrigerant in its newly-launched i3 electric vehicle.

Japanese carmaker Mazda told Reuters one of its models - the CX5 crossover - had been switched to coolant R134a.

(Writing by Christiaan Hetzner; Editing by David Cowell)

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