Mercedes claims r1234yf can be flammable - Honeywell maintains it is safe

Mercedes claims r1234yf can be flammable - Honeywell maintains it is safe

It's easy enough to understand a note of triumph creeping into Honeywell's "final word" reaction this week to the news of Brussels' scientific boffins backing the r1234yf refrigerant.

Indeed Honeywell is so confident it happily notes the JRC's (Joint Research Centre) findings as "independent and unimpeachable," adding to me from Brussels for good measure: "They [JRC] are at arm's length from the European Commission - they are the scientific research body of the EC. 

"They are civil servants because they are employed by the EC, but are at arm's length."

The body, with a transport element based in Italy, is tasked by the Commission to look into these contentious issues, but no matter how "unimpeachable" their findings are, their political masters have nonetheless made their feelings very clear.

From the Commission vice president and responsible for trade, no less, Antonio Tajani. "The Commission has the duty to ensure European Union law is fully and uniformly applied throughout the EU's internal market, so a level playing field and fair competition conditions are respected for all economic operators," he opined.

He goes on: "[The] Directive requires, inter alia, to use in the air-conditioning systems refrigerants with a limited global warming potential. The refrigerant [HFO 1234yf] chosen by industry to be used on MAC [Mobile Air Conditioning] to fulfil the obligations of this Directive has been considered unsafe by one German manufacturer that continued to use old refrigerant with a much higher air polluting potential."

Well, it's pretty obvious who that "one German manufacturer" is. Honeywell also made dark mutterings about a "single automaker" and there's no doubt the combined might of the multi-national and the Brussels Eurocrats are pointing their fingers squarely at Mercedes and its r134a refrigerant, even though the producer is currently developing its own CO2-based coolant.

So is that the "final word?"

Not at all.

Mercedes has come back fighting as you would expect, with the automaker pointing to the fact the JRC did not undertake its own tests, but rather evaluated those of the German road safety authority, the Kraftfahrt Bundesamt (KBA).

"Our position is still unchanged as we think the report of the JRC is too restrictive," a Mercedes spokesman told me from Germany.

"They just look at the KBA and did not conduct any tests of their own."

That's a fair point isn't it? The scientific body appointed by Brussels hasn't carried out much of its own science according to Mercedes, but, and I'm sure they're pretty good at this mind, forensically examined the KBA's report.

But Mercedes is adamant: "We say there is a risk, a safety risk, that is why we are developing CO2 air-conditioning systems and we won't change our plan.

"What is the end? I think there will be still some more discussions going on. We are still going to develop CO2 air-conditioning systems. We will see them as soon as possible, ready for series production."

Far from being the final word, it seems the conversation is very much alive and if Brussels and Honeywell assume Mercedes is just going to roll over, it may well be in for quite a surprise.

Automakers, Ministries, governments, chemical companies, Courts, regulatory bodies and dealer associations have been engulfed in Byzantine arguments that have gained momentum as the dispute has dragged on.

I've been trying to talk to the German government and the JRC today, but both are proving pretty elusive.

Germany's recent elections have resulted in quite a bureaucratic upheaval as various departments see the revolving door ingest and exhale personnel, but it will be instructive to know what Berlin's thinking on the latest Brussels/chemical producers axis is.

What might also be intruiging would be to put Mercedes, Honeywell, Brussels and Berlin together in the same room and hear the arguments back and forth. 

"What is the end?" as Mercedes says. At some point, this has to be resolved. Or will Germany continue its Brussels defiance indefinitely?