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GM to stick with new refrigerant despite warnings

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DETROIT—General Motors Co. is sticking with its decision to introduce a new, more environmentally safe refrigerant in its vehicles despite claims by Daimler A.G. that it may cause fires in an accident.

A GM executive said GM conducted additional crash tests plus computer simulations after the

German auto maker raised questions about the refrigerant HFO-1234yf, made by Honeywell International Inc. and E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.

In August, Daimler engineers simulated a crash test and found that a mix of refrigerant and oil from the compressor could be ignited by the hot surface of the engine, creating a toxic gas.

But Curt Vincent, GM's engineering manager for new refrigerants, disputed Daimler's claims.

“We did crash tests, computer simulations and thermal analysis and did not observe any safety problems at all,” Mr. Vincent told Automotive News, a Detroit-based companion publication of Tire Business. “Many (researchers) have tried to repeat Daimler's findings, but no one has come forward with anything that would indicate any concern.”

Mr. Vincent made his remarks even as Daimler and Volkswagen A.G. postponed their use of the refrigerant.

Daimler is recalling Mercedes vehicles that contain the product, while, according to a Bloomberg News report, a Volkswagen spokeswoman said the company won't use it “until further notice.”

GM's Mr. Vincent and Honeywell Vice President Terrence Hahn both noted that a research consortium of 13 auto makers has reaffirmed its earlier findings that HFO-1234yf poses no safety hazards.

The consortium re-examined its findings after Daimler raised its concerns. “We tested it ourselves,” Mr. Hahn noted. “We're not going to sell this product if it's not safe. We are absolutely convinced that the material is safe to use.”

GM already uses the chemical in the Cadillac XTS and in the European version of the Chevrolet Malibu. Over the next five years or so, GM will convert most of its models sold in North America to the new refrigerant, Mr. Vincent said.

It will cost GM about $75 per vehicle to switch to the new refrigerant and install redesigned air conditioners.

HFO-1234yf is considered more benign than other refrigerants because it is less likely to deplete the ozone if it leaks into the atmosphere, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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