In a serious blow to the French authorities in the bitter row over German carmaker Daimler’s use of a banned chemical, the country’s top administrative court lifted the sales freeze on Mercedes vehicles on Tuesday.
In a temporary injunction ordering the resumption of Mercedes registrations within two days, the Conseil d’Etat voiced “serious doubt” over the legality of the two-month freeze affecting several key models.
France had banned A-Class, B-Class, CLA and SL cars assembled since June because of Daimler’s refusal to stop using the air-conditioning coolant R134a, banned from new vehicles since the start of the year under the terms of an EU directive.
“We’re delighted that the Conseil d’Etat has confirmed our legal opinion and repealed the registration ban in France,” a Daimler spokesman said. “We’re confident this decision will be upheld.”
A definitive ruling is expected within 12 months. Under the EU “mobile air-conditioning” directive, new vehicle types approved since 2011 must avoid using R134a, a global warming agent 1,400 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Those certified earlier have until 2017 to comply.
The only available substitute that meets EU requirements is R1234yf, made by Honeywell and Dupont. The problem is that Both chemicals may ignite when in contact with extremely hot engine parts, releasing toxic hydrogen fluoride gas. The Honeywell coolant can combust at slightly lower temperatures, but has cleared safety tests overseen by the industry and Germany’s KBA motoring authority.
Still, Daimler broke ranks last year and said its own tests had identified unacceptable safety risks, recalling SL models already sold with the Honeywell coolant.