Mercedes-Benz is testing its own CO2 refrigerant

Mercedes-Benz is testing its own CO2 refrigerant

Mercedes-Benz is rapidly moving its own agenda surrounding the interminable will they/won't they refrigerant debate.

After what has seemed an eternity of both sides engaged in trench warfare - with almost zero progress - the German automaker has taken the matter a step further by announcing its own series of C02 coolant tests in deliberately inhospitable areas of the planet that number northern Sweden and Death Valley among its locations.

The arguments from both protagonists are well rehearsed - they have been aired through official political channels and the world's media - whose attention has been drawn moth-like to the burning lamp of controversy surrounding the now infamous r134a and r123yf air conditioning variants.

Honeywell - as manufacturer of the r1234yf coolant - has vigorously fought its corner as you would expect - denouncing one automaker it declines to name - although it is almost undoubtedly Mercedes-Benz - for not toeing the party line.

You can almost hear the irritation in the chemical producer's voice: "A single automaker's decision to not comply with the EU Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) Directive has taken up a disproportionate amount of the EU's time and has finally led to infringement proceedings against Germany," it thundered.

I spoke to the EC in Brussels and the bureaucrats have only launched the first steps in that infringement procedure - there's still some way to go yet.

The mandarins have given Germany two months to respond, but in a display of governmental alacrity, which must be almost unprecedented (is it to do with a zestful injection of fervour by the newly re-elected Chancellor and her administration?), Berlin has already responded to Brussels, with it own, plainly stark views.

"We think it is not wise in the view of safety to use something that obviously bears risk, [that] has not been fully explored yet," the German Transport Ministry in the German capital told me.

"Secondly, in this particular issue, we are on the right track because it is not [that] we source something on to the market that might have severe consequences for health and safety."

Well, that's pretty clear, Berlin is firmly taking its automaker's side.

There are all sorts of muttered asides about Germany protecting its luxury car industry by supporting r134a, but in fairness to Berlin, it's never swerved from its support for its automakers.

The opposite has equally been noises off hinting at French domestic car industry woes and that blocking big German premium beasts could be one way of helping some beleaguered folks at home - it's just conjecture on both sides of course but it adds to the liveliness of what has been an extraordinary spat.

But to cut to the chase, maybe the German Transport Ministry has it right.

This from Berlin again: "I think it will be solved by time-lapse," the Ministry told me. "Soon the industry will be on the market with a totally new product and all this hassle will be in the past - because they will have a CO2 cooling system."

Well, that's the rub isn't it? Mercedes recognises there's an issue and has instituted concrete steps to try and resolve it, namely coming up with its own CO2 system.

So why has the French Transport Ministry, Brussels, Honeywell, the Berlin government, the German road safety association (KBA), the French dealers association, the Joint Research Centre, France's highest Court, the Council of State, Greenpeace and seemingly Uncle Tom Cobbly and all, been dragged into a dispute that appears to have a clear timeline resolution anyway?

Is there in fact, some merit in speculation that certain bodies have an anti-German agenda or is that just hocus pocus?

Whatever the outcome - and there appears no immediate end in sight - the issue has taken up - as Honeywell points out a "disproportionate amount of the EU's time" - although it has clearly taken up an awful lot of other people's time too.

Meanwhile, Mercedes is quietly going about testing its CO2 variant on a fleet of models with an eye firmly on 2016 for entry into service the following year.

The Mobile Air Conditioning Directive is there and will - if belatedly - be seemingly adhered to.

Just why have Brussels and France got such a bee in their bonnet about it?

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