FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- Daimler said it and other German automakers took an initial step toward resolving a safety scare over a new air-conditioning refrigerant developed to meet an EU mandate.
Daimler said it had tasked its engineers with developing a completely new air-conditioning system that employs non-flammable carbon dioxide as an alternative to the new, flammable HFO-1234yf refrigerant favored by most of the car industry.
Daimler research and development chief Thomas Weber said Audi, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen had agreed "to press ahead with this sustainable and safe solution" with Daimler.
According to Daimler, the new HFO-1234yf poses a much greater fire hazard than many of its fellow carmakers currently believe.
The company's critics, including the refrigerant's producer Honeywell International, argue there are many other flammable materials under the hood of a car and attack Daimler's refusal to use the more expensive, climate-friendly HFO-1234yf as a thinly veiled attempt to save money.
Weber told Reuters during the Geneva auto show on Tuesday that Daimler would be prepared to pay the EU compensation for violating the directive, although he stopped short of calling it a "fine."
The EU mandated that the existing R134a refrigerant be phased out beginning in January and it will be banned outright in 2017. In order to meet strict new climate change targets set by Brussels, the auto industry agreed to use HFO-1234yf after tests in concluded in 2009 showed it was safe.
However, prompted by safety concerns from Germany's Federal Environment Agency, Daimler carried out its own tests, which concluded there was no way its engineers could rule out the risk of a potential fire caused by the refrigerant, which also emits a highly toxic gas during combustion.