The regulatory and verbal war between France and Germany over Mercedes-Benz’s refusal to switch to the R1234yf air conditioning refrigerant has escalated. After a French court ordered a 10 day stay, lifting that country’s ban on R134a equpped A Class, B Class, CLA and SL cars made since June, Daimler expressed confidence that the French government would abide by that ruling. That confidence was apparently badly placed because the French government has now invoked a “safeguard procedure” of the EU that allows member countries to act unilaterally to avoid a serious risk involving the environment, public health or traffic safety, reinstituing the ban. Daimler promised that it would continue fighting to allow the sale of those cars in France. It claims that the new refrigerant is dangerously flammable and toxic.
The French environment ministry said, “The registration of Daimler/Mercedes vehicles classes A, B, CLA and SL remain banned in France as long as the company does not conform to active European regulation.” Daimler responded by calling the decision “absolutely inexplicable” and promised more litigation. Eu officials said the were talking with both the French and German national governments to schedule bilateral talks in September in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
While French officials frame the matter as an environmental issue, Mercedes-Benz supporters think that national politics and favoring local automakers is a factor. PSA Peugeot Citroën have asked for government financing and Renault has struggled as the European market has had its worst year in decades, particularly with small and medium sized cars. German companies, BMW, Daimler and the VW group, which all make larger, more expensive cars, have been doing better, particularly in emerging global markets. German chancellor, Angela Merkel, angered the French last month when she blocked EU efforts to institute more stringent controls on emissions from large cars.
The head of the Association of Mercedes-Benz dealers in France, Jean-Claude Bernard, said the action was intended “to please the greens and damage a German manufacturer. This coolant is used in 95 per cent of cars in France with air conditioning. If it is so dangerous they should take them all off the road.” Bernard’s group says that about 5,000 deliveries have been affected so far, that orders were down 20% and that the Mercedes models involved represented about half of his association members’ sales, about 30,000 units annually. He demanded an end to the R134a ban and wrote to the French minister for the environment claiming that 11,000 jobs in France were endangered by the ban.