Daimler announces safety technology to use in conjunction with R1234yf refrigerant and that it will introduce its own carbon dioxide-based air-conditioning system on the S-Class and E-Class from 2017.
IHS Automotive perspective
Daimler has announced that it will use the R1234yf air-conditioning refrigerant from 2017 in all its model ranges other than the S-Class and the next generation E-Class, according to a company press release.
Despite new lower carbon dioxide-emitting refrigerant being mandated for use by the European Commission, Daimler had originally refused to replace the old R134a refrigerant with it over concerns about its flammability following crash tests involving the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Mercedes said it ensured "a continued high standard of safety for its customers in the future, Mercedes-Benz has carried out extensive testing on all its vehicle models."
Daimler's initial refusal to use R1234yf was based on concerns over its safety, but it has now developed a "package of vehicle's specific measures" in order to guarantee safety standards for its cars using the refrigerant, including a patented system to keep the fluid and hot engine components separated in the event of an accident. Given that the R1234yf refrigerant is the only one mandated by the European Union for use and made in sufficient quantities for use in value vehicles it appears that Daimler has come up with the best solution to a difficult problem.
Daimler has announced that all its passenger car ranges, bar the S-Class and the E-Class, will use the R1234yf air-conditioning refrigerant developed by US conglomerate Honeywell in partnership with DuPont after it had originally refused to use the refrigerant following concerns over its flammability. The company had crash-tested a Mercedes-Benz A-Class fitted with the refrigerant and experienced a fire when vapour from the refrigerant came into contact with hot engine components. Honeywell and DuPont consistently refuted Daimler's findings, insisting that the refrigerant was safe, and Daimler also found itself in a difficult position as R1234yf was effectively being adopted as the new industry standard refrigerant as it has been developed especially to meet new European Commission regulations limiting carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions from air-conditioning refrigerants, known as the mobile air-conditioning (MAC) directive. The German government had backed Daimler and its Mercedes-Benz car brand in the dispute, but the European Commission had launched legal proceeding against the German government as a result, claiming that there was "no evidence of a serious risk in the use of this refrigerant in MAC systems under normal and foreseeable conditions of use." (see Europe: 11 March 2014: EU scientific committee reaffirms safety of R1234yf refrigerant).
In response, Daimler has now issued a press statement outlining its position going forward on the issue. From 2017, no car sold in the European Union (EU) will be able to use the old R143a refrigerant, and Daimler has said it will comply to this timescale by using the R1234yf refrigerant in every one of its models apart from the S-Class and new E-Class, which will have completely new CO2-based air-conditioning systems which have been developed at huge expense and in a very short timescale by Mercedes-Benz (see Germany: 31 January 2014: Daimler developing own air-conditioning refrigerant ). Mercedes said in its statement that "The use of CO2 as a refrigerant necessitates the redesign of crucial components. CO2 air-conditioning systems operate at a pressure of more than 100 bar – some 10 times higher than that of today's systems. This means that all components including the hoses and seals need to be redesigned. Mercedes-Benz has drafted corresponding standards together with all German automobile manufacturers and numerous suppliers in the automotive standards committee of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)." The company has also allowed other companies access to the designs and regulatory filings which allows other original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to more quickly develop their own CO2-based systems. As a result Mercedes-Benz has become the first OEM to award development contracts and place production orders for CO2 air-conditioning systems and their components.
However, the deployment of the new system designed for the S-Class and E-Class is not feasible across the entire model range, according to Mercedes-Benz, in time for the full implementation of the MAC directive which will apply from 1 January 2017. In order to meet the standard required, the company will use R1234yf in its other model ranges. It is the only refrigerant produced on an industrial scale to date which fits the future requirements of the EU directive for air conditioning systems in new vehicles, so using R1234yf has become the only option available despite the initial misgivings from Mercedes-Benz. However, in order to reassure customers about the safe application of the R1234yf in its cars, the company has developed brand new technology, involving "a comprehensive package of vehicle's specific measures". In the event of a frontal impact, the technology sees a gas generator release inert argon gas onto hot engine components and therefore negates any fire hazard from the refrigerant vapour igniting.
Outlook and implications
Daimler and Mercedes-Benz appear to have handled this potentially difficult situation as well as possibly could have been expected under the circumstances. Once the company released its findings about the fire that resulted from testing the R1234yf in the A-Class crash test, it faced a difficult conundrum. It could stick to its guns and claim the material was flammable in certain crash situations, but this was always refuted by R1234yf's manufacturers, Honeywell and DuPont. After the European Commission conducted its own safety review and publically stated that R1234yf was completely safe in its view, Mercedes-Benz found itself in a very difficult position. This was especially the case after its refusal to use R1234yf in its new models launched after the MAC directive was introduced in 2013 led to the French government suspending sales of these model ranges (see Europe: 7 July 2013: EU investigates French ban on registering new Mercedes-Benz cars over refrigerant issue). The legislation allowed older models fitted with R143a to continue to use the old refrigerant, which emitted a high level of greenhouse gases until 2017. Now Daimler has come up with its own, unique CO2-based air-conditioning system for its high-end cars (while offering "open source" access to the technology and documentation to encourage other OEMs down this route) while at the same time coming up with new technology to offer extra safeguards on its cars using R1234yf. Therefore it has made the best out of a potentially embarrassing situation while introducing new technology solutions which have the potential to challenge the R1234yf's current lock on the air-conditioning refrigerant market in Europe.