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French court orders ban on Mercedes cars be lifted


Text by Thomas HUBERT

Latest update : 2013-08-28

A top French court has ordered the government to allow the sale of new Mercedes-Benz cars using a type of air-conditioning chemical deemed too polluting by European law.

An interim court ruling issued on Tuesday gives the French government two days to allow Mercedes-Benz’s new models into the country, after the administration banned them over the fluid used in their air-conditioner.

“At this point in the investigation, the introduction in France of the vehicles targeted by the challenged decree cannot be considered in itself to constitute a serious threat to the environment,” France’s Council of State, the country’s highest court in administrative matters, wrote in a statement explaining its ruling.

This is the second time the German car manufacturer has won a court order against the French government since the row started last June.

The French authorities then rejected “type approval” – the EU-wide certificate required to put a new model on the road – for four new classes of Mercedes-Benz cars. They argued that their air-conditioning system did not comply with European law.

Global warming vs. fire hazard

A European Union directive has banned older coolants in new models from January 1, 2013 because they are powerful greenhouse gases and favour global warming.

Yet Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, Daimler AG, considers that the only replacement chemical currently available causes a fire hazard.

“Due to the safety risks identified by Mercedes-Benz in the summer of 2012, Daimler has now decided not to apply the new refrigerant R1234yf in its vehicles,” the company wrote in its latest financial report.

Daimler obtained amended EU-wide type approvals for its new models from the German authorities, but the French administration has refused to recognise them.

Immediately after Mercedes-Benz France won a first court case against the informal ban on its vehicles last month, the French government issued a decree to formalise its rejection of the new cars on environmental grounds, citing the EU directive.

The European Commission has been supportive of the French ban. “Currently, in the European market, there are vehicles produced by this manufacturer that, according to the preliminary Commission analysis, are not in conformity with their type-approval,” EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani said on July 16. “Non-conform vehicles cannot be sold or registered in the European Union,” he added.

1,300 times as much pollution as carbon dioxide

France’s Council of State acknowledged that the older chemical still used in Mercedes’s controversial models “has a global warming potential of 1,300,” which means that it is 1,300 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Only chemicals with a global warming potential of 150, such as R1234yf, are allowed under new EU legislation.

But the court ruled that the proportion of Mercedes cars in national sales was too small for the government to argue that its new models posed a threat to the environment. Its ruling, however, is temporary and another decision on the merits of the dispute is expected later.

The Council of State justified the interim ruling by the fact that the government ban caused “grave commercial, financial and image damage” to Mercedes-Benz.

According to the French federation of car makers, sales of Mercedes cars in the country fell by nearly 7% year-on-year in July after three months of consistent growth.

Date created : 2013-08-27