COMMENT: Mercedes walks taller but will coolant opponents regroup?

By Simon Warburton | 30 August 2013

Mercedes has concerns with what it claims is potential refrigerant flammability: chemical makers take a very different view

Mercedes has concerns with what it claims is potential refrigerant flammability: chemical makers take a very different view

Mercedes-Benz dealers in France must be walking with a slight skip in their step into work this morning (30 August) following the news registrations have finally started of the previously banned A, B, CLA and SL models, using the now infamous r134a refrigerant.

Even forgetting for one moment - and the 11,000 strong dealer staff certainly won't - the commission on those 5,000 or so blockaded models - the overturning by France's Council of State of the ban on certification is quite a victory for Mercedes.

That Court, France's highest legal authority by the way, was quite a step for the German automaker, but having been seemingly thwarted at every opportunity by a powerful coalition of the French Transport Ministry and the European Commission, the Germans can now get on with the business of actually selling and delivering vehicles.

The president of Mercedes dealers in France, Jean-Claude Bernard, told me this morning he was "not surprised at all" by the Conseil d'Etat's decision to reverse the politicians' ban and just to stick the boot in a little bit, added for good measure: "The French State can not act otherwise."

There may be an element of bravado in that - only a few weeks ago Monsieur Bernard was warning of a "catastrophic situation for France" should the Court ruling not go Mercedes' way.

But this is one battle - admittedly a very important battle - won in the skirmish - the war is definitely not finished and Brussels and Paris will go away to lick their wounds and fight another day.

Various boffins are due to report - with differing timescales - their findings from some pretty extensive scientific research going on - namely in the guise of the German road safety authority - Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA) and the EC's own eggheads - the Joint Research Centre.

The refrigerant arguments are well rehearsed and both sides know their lines off by heart. To those sides can clearly by added the chemical manufacturers of the Brussels-mandated r1234yf alternative themselves, Honeywell and Dupont, who have both mounted robust defences of its safety properties.

Mercedes reckons it could be six to 12 months before the Council of State returns with its full ruling - overturning the ban was only a temporary measure.

The beaches of France and Spain are starting to empty now as northern Europe begins- reluctantly - to head back to the chillier climes of September and think once more of the importance of doing business.

Mercedes may use the time to secure further backing for its victory - the automaker must have been incredibly heartened by last week's news Toyota Deutschland was joining forces with its German colleagues - but its opponents will equally be gathering ammunition.

Stuttgart has asked to be able to develop its own CO2-based refrigerant and this process could be given more urgent momentum now it has perhaps up to a year before the French Court issues its final view.

There may be a lull in the frenetic pace of activity but this issue will resurface all too soon.