Leading automotive research organisation dismisses Daimler's concerns over fire risk of new air-con fluid
Matt Burt
31 July 2013

A leading automotive research organisation has dismissed Daimler’s claim that a new type of air-con refrigerant carries a higher fire risk than the old substance, which the German automotive giant is continuing to use in its cars, despite an EU ban.

SAE International, a global body of scientists, engineers, and practitioners that sets automotive technical standards and includes representatives from several car companies, claims that Daimler’s own research into the new refrigerant is flawed.

Many major car manufacturers complied with a European Union directive to switch to a new, more environmentally friendly form of refrigerant – known as R-1234yf – from 1 January 2013.

But Daimler, after conducting its own testing, highlighted concerns that the new refrigerant poses a greater risk of vehicle fire than the old type of fluid in the event of the air-con pipes becoming damaged.

It continues to use other types of refrigerant in some models, which resulted in a ban on registration of new Mercedes-Benz A-class, B-class and SL-class models in France last month.

To address Daimler’s concerns, which it raised last year, SAE embarked on a new cooperative research project to analyse the fire risk of the new refrigerant. 

Now SAE has published details of its updated research, which refutes Daimler’s claim that the new refrigerant is more dangerous. SAE’s report also says that the test methods used by Daimler were flawed because they were not representative of real-life crash scenarios.

According to SAE, Daimler’s isolated tests involved a number of artificial factors that increased the risk of fire and at the same time ignored a number of factors that would have reduced the probability of fire in a real crash.

SAE’s analysis determined that the risk of a vehicle fire caused by the new refrigerant is three in one trillion. This compares to the risk of vehicle fire from any cause, which SAE puts at one in a million.

SAE reaffirmed its previous conclusion that the new type of refrigerant is safe for automotive use. 

Although no other countries have followed France’s ban on Mercedes models, the European Commission has given Daimler until September to comply with the new air-con directive. However, Daimler remains adamant that its cars are type-approved for sale across Europe, having been passed by German transport authorities.

The SAE’s conclusions were endorsed by many of the manufacturers involved in the research project: Chrysler/Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, PSA, Renault and Toyota

Three companies – Daimler itself, BMW and Audi – initially participated in the research project but chose to withdraw.

 

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Comments
28

31 July 2013

If the company can design cars to safely carry and circulate a large volume of highly flamable petrol or diesel fuel, then I can't see why a few a few odd litres of the new refrigerant is going to impose any additional risk.

31 July 2013

Its funny how it only appears to be German companies "Daimler, BMW and Audi" who have problems with the research, are they frightened of something? 

289

31 July 2013

...I guess it comes down to who you trust most! Mercedes-Benz has always led the way in automotive safety, its crash testing and analysis of accidents involving M-B product in the Stuttgart area are legendary...and how do we know that SAE arent being 'encouraged' by Honeywell to find in their favour...after all there is a lot riding on this for Honeywell if they are proved wrong.

All of the other OEM's listed here as 'Happy' with the findings are hardly the stuff of legend when it comes to building strong & safe cars.

I wouldnt be too quick to judge M-B if I were you, I mean whats in it for them to hold out over this issue if they are wrong?

31 July 2013

289 wrote:

...I guess it comes down to who you trust most! Mercedes-Benz has always led the way in automotive safety, its crash testing and analysis of accidents involving M-B product in the Stuttgart area are legendary...and how do we know that SAE arent being 'encouraged' by Honeywell to find in their favour...after all there is a lot riding on this for Honeywell if they are proved wrong.

All of the other OEM's listed here as 'Happy' with the findings are hardly the stuff of legend when it comes to building strong & safe cars.

I wouldnt be too quick to judge M-B if I were you, I mean whats in it for them to hold out over this issue if they are wrong?

+1.

Also, isn't there a slight conflict of interest if some manufacturers already using the new refrigerant were directly involved in the study? I think the research should have been done with independent scientists/engineers with as little affiliations to car manufacturers as possible.

 

- Follow your own star -

6 August 2013

Volvo are the inventors of the air bag, seatbelt, safety roll cage, padded dashboard, laminated windscreen, crumple zones, the ROPS, SIPS & WIPS and BLIS systems. City Safety, pedestrian and cyclist detection, the pedestrian air bag and pop up bonnet, the curtain air bag, Boron steel, DLR's about 30 yrs before Audi jumped on the bandwagon! And only 16 people killed since 1937 and no one ever from the emergency services...they by virtue of their job have to often drive well above the speed limits. Any other manufacturer of this size in the last 80 yrs will count their death toll in the ten of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands!

I think you will find that Volvo's state of the art Crash test facility is the world's largest and the only one with two moving tunnels to simulate every crash possibility is actually legendary. Volvo collects cars from a 100 mile radius and takes them back to their CTF to make cars even safer.  Their mission statement 2020: Is that no one will be killed or injured in, or by a Volvo.

 And isn't their new V40 the safest car ever tested? And didn't a £63000 Mercedes with an optional (£2000) Autonomous braking system crash into the back of the Thatcham test car at 50 mph? The Volvo at £18995 (with a free) including City Safety avoided it at 55mph! It's on YouTube - not cool, especially to charge for safety!!!! So that is Mercedes and Audi that have stolen ideas from Volvo and then had the cheek to charge their customers, when it was Volvo who had all of the development costs yet gave it away free to their customers. So really who is it that cares more about their customers?

 

As for what's in it for them...perhaps Mercedes Benz have bought silos full of the older type of gas. Or maybe some one of their board of directors has shares in the previous supplier!

31 July 2013

I'm sure GermanPower will come up with some bizarre comment, like suggesting that JLR, Aston, McLaren or some other British marque has bribed the French and SAE to try and discredit Mercedes.

31 July 2013

I'm not sure about this one.  Mercedes has a good reputation for safety and I want to believe their research is thorough and comprehensive.  Why would they go out of their way to be difficult?  It'd be much easier to simply comply with the legislation.  However, some of the companies involved in the research project have a good reputation, too.  Renault's done well in improving its passenger car safety record, and Jaguar and Citroen both brought out the world's first production pop-up bonnet in 2005 so clearly invest a lot in safety.  Where does Volvo stand in all of this?

31 July 2013

Volvo is light years ahead of all of them.

Mercedes Benz really doesn't have such good track record in safety if we take into account the latest crash tests done in the US. They just built only big and heavy cars in the past and hence the "safe" perception.

It's not the coolant that is the problem, it's faulty MB design/engineering under the bonnet...

31 July 2013

chila wrote:

Volvo is light years ahead of all of them.

Mercedes Benz really doesn't have such good track record in safety if we take into account the latest crash tests done in the US. They just built only big and heavy cars in the past and hence the "safe" perception.

It's not the coolant that is the problem, it's faulty MB design/engineering under the bonnet...

Are you serious? Volvo does indeed excell when it comes to safety, but trashing Merc like that is just ridiculous I'm afraid. I'm not going into too much detail/history, but I will tell you that ABS, ESP, airbags, the safety cell and crumple zones - some of the most important safety features ever - were invented/developed by Merc and consequently found themselves on Merc vehicles first. They have also intentionally not patented some safety innovations so other car makers could use them to improve automotive safety in general.

As regards the small-offset crash tests of the US (to which I assume you're referring), they are a) statistically unrealistic in terms of occurrence but, more importantly, b) the C-Class tested is an older design than the equivalent Volvo model and arguably had a stiffer passenger cell (indeed I was impressed at the stifness of the C-Class's cell); the only weaknesses were a slight intrusion in the footwell and no side airbag deployment, which frankly aren't very difficult problems to solve.

Also, did you know that the C-, E-, GLK- and M-Classes have stronger roofs than the equivalent Volvo models as tested by the IIHS? And that they actually have the strongest roofs in their segmemts (bar the E-Class, which is pipped by the now-defunct Saab 9-5)?

So to conclude, the point is that both Volvo and Merc have contributed significantly to automotive safety and both have well-deserved reputations for producing some of the safest cars in the world.

 

- Follow your own star -

1 August 2013

Christian Galea wrote:

but I will tell you that ABS, ESP, airbags, the safety cell and crumple zones - some of the most important safety features ever - were invented/developed by Merc and consequently found themselves on Merc vehicles first.

ABS - sorry no

ESP - sorry no

Airbags - sorry no

Safety cell/crumple zones are the same thing, and yes I will give you that, I suppose 1 out of 4 isnt bad. 

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