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.
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.