No delay for car makers on EU chemicals ban

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Car makers will not be granted a delay to an agreed 2011 European ban on climate-damaging chemicals in the air conditioners of new car models, European Parliament officials said on Tuesday.

A worker assembles a car in German January 17, 2007. REUTERS/Alex Grimm

Automakers say they will need to invest an extra 40-200 euros ($57-287) per vehicle to meet the refrigerant standards, which would be difficult to pass on to consumers in the current tough economic climate.

The car sector’s campaign has aroused strong opposition from environmentalists and suppliers of greener engineering systems.

The European Union decided in 2006 that from 2011 it would ban the use of fluorinated chemicals, such as the industry standard known as R134a, which have a powerful climate-warming effect when released into the atmosphere.

The EU closed a legal loophole in April after learning that car makers were planning to use it to avoid the ban for new car models until 2017.

But car industry lobby group ACEA said auto manufacturers still needed two to three extra years.

European Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told a meeting in the European Parliament on Tuesday that a delay would not be granted, according to two officials present at the meeting.

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“The rule is in force -- it has to be applied,” both officials quoted him as saying in a response to a question by British liberal lawmaker Chris Davies.

“The message could not be more clear,” Davies later said in a statement. “The European Commission has raised the stakes and told them -- don’t mess with us.”

“Car makers...have had billions of euros in support from national governments, and it is time that they took a lead in helping reach Europe’s ambitions of reducing the release of global warming gases,” Davies added.

The emerging market for greener refrigerants pits industry giant Honeywell International with its HFO-1234yf coolant against rival carbon dioxide-based cooling systems such as that of Austria’s Obrist Engineering, Germany’s Ixetic and U.S.-based Visteon.

Some of them say car makers, such as General Motors and Mercedes, had already placed orders for green air-conditioning systems and were on track to meet the ban, but later retracted the orders for unknown reasons.

Editing by David Cowell