(Corrects to show R134a more than 1,000 more potent than CO2)
* EU confirms that France blocking some Mercedes sales
* Daimler says French action starting to hurt sales
* Germany could face infringement action - EU spokesman
* German lawmakers see link with CO2 row
By Barbara Lewis and Andreas Cremer
BRUSSELS/BERLIN, July 9 The European Commission
has warned Germany it faces possible action over Daimler's
refusal to remove a banned refrigerant from new cars,
after France moved to block most Mercedes sales within its
France has halted registrations of non-compliant Mercedes
models, the EU executive also confirmed on Tuesday, the latest
sign of tension between Germany and its European partners over
the direction of auto industry policy and regulation.
Officials are probing the German luxury carmaker's refusal,
backed by Berlin, to follow an EU directive banning the
air-conditioning coolant R134a, Commission spokesman Carlo
Corazza told Reuters.
If the breach is confirmed, Brussels "may take necessary
action including where appropriate infringement procedures"
against Germany, Corazza said in a written statement.
Officials at several French government ministries declined
to comment. French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, when
asked on Monday about the sales freeze, said: "I have not been
informed about this".
Daimler has said French authorities are blocking new
registrations of its Mercedes SL sports car and A- and B-Class
subcompacts, which together represent more than half of Mercedes
sales in the country.
France's effective sales ban on vehicles assembled since
June 12 is just beginning to hurt deliveries, according to a
company spokesman, who said he was unaware of any restrictions
in other EU states.
The carmaker insists its refusal to phase out R134a, a
global warming agent more than 1,000 times more potent than
carbon dioxide, is justified by safety concerns. The only
available replacement, Honeywell's R1234yf, can emit
toxic hydrogen fluoride gas when it burns.
Based on 2012 deliveries, Daimler said the French
registrations freeze could affect about 2 percent of its global
sales, or 29,000 cars.
The refrigerant dispute follows a bitter row over the next
wave of EU vehicle emission rules, in which German Chancellor
Angela Merkel lobbied in vain for larger CO2 loopholes, then
intervened to prevent a vote.
"The controversial CO2 debate showed that Europe is
grappling with divergent interests among its key players," said
Steffen Bilger, a federal lawmaker with Merkel's governing CDU
who sits on the cross-party transport committee.
"It can't be ruled out that Germany's voting behaviour also
played a certain role" in France's decision to halt Mercedes
registrations, he said.
Green Party lawmaker Anton Hofreiter, who chairs the same
Bundestag committee, said Paris was "clearly seizing the
opportunity to snipe back at Germany" over its CO2 stance.
He added: "The French example may catch on with other
countries, for instance Italy."
EU member states and Commission officials are to discuss the
deepening standoff over coolants at a meeting on July 17 in
DANGER TO HEALTH?
The EU "mobile air conditioning" directive 2006/40/EC took
effect on Jan. 1, banning the use of R134a in models approved
for sale since the start of 2011. Vehicle types certified
earlier, or their derivatives, have until 2017 to comply.
Following safety tests, all other European carmakers have
switched their newest models to the coolant developed by
Honeywell in partnership with Dupont. But Germany's
transport authority KBA backs Daimler's refusal to use it.
The federal agency has given Daimler permission to continue
using R134a pending further safety assessments, in defiance of
"It can't be ruled out that the new coolant ... may endanger
vehicle passengers and other road users," the German transport
ministry said in a statement.
Available scientific findings do not yet allow for a final
risk assessment, it added.
The KBA and Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer have both
written to Brussels arguing that Daimler should be allowed to
continue using the banned refrigerant until their own scientific
evaluations are complete.
"With this action, it's possible Daimler may consider that
its vehicles no longer have to comply," EU spokesman Corazza
The Commission is committed to ensuring the highest level of
vehicle safety and "has the duty to ensure that European Union
law is uniformly applied", he said.
(Writing by Laurence Frost; additional reporting by Hendrik
Sackmann in Stuttgart and Gilles Guillaume in Paris; editing by