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How the 2017 A/C milestones, new EPA rules will affect your shop

Monday, May 1, 2017 - 07:00
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We’ve reached another milestone in the mobile A/C refrigerant timeline, and this time it’s a big one: January 1, 2017 was the drop-dead date set by the EU (European Union) for when vehicle manufacturers can no longer fill any new vehicle’s A/C system with fluorinated refrigerants (or F-Gases) that have a GWP rating of more than 150. This totally knocks out R-134a as a player (with its relatively high 1,430 GWP), pretty much leaving OEMs with a choice between R-152a, R-744 (what we call carbon dioxide when it’s used as a refrigerant) or R-1234yf, which is quickly becoming the new world standard.

If possible, car makers around the world would still like to employ just one, universally accepted working fluid (the refrigerant), which is one reason why R-1234yf has so much support (that, along with its GWP of 1 and its similarities to R-134a, among others). All OEMs will build yf systems to meet the current EU and upcoming US and other world regulations, but it’s not the only fluid in development right now.

Tata Motors in India is working on a “Secondary Loop” system with MAHLE Behr Troy (formerly Delphi Thermal Systems) and the IGSD (the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development) that uses R-152a (the same chemical used in those cans of computer dust off spray), and we expect to learn more about that as 2017 progresses.

But probably the most well known is Daimler’s work on R-744 systems, which they have said will be available on certain vehicles for the 2017 model year. In fact, there were several meetings and discussions about the technology at the recent EAAC (European Automotive A/C Convention) in September 2016, including a demonstration of R-744 R/R/R machine technology on an actual vehicle.

R-1234yf at the 2017 PHL Auto Show

In the meantime here in the US, we continue to see more vehicles on the street using R-1234yf refrigerant, and as expected the 2017 model year has extended HFO’s reach into several more models than ever before. January 27 was Media Day at the Philadelphia Auto Show, and MACS was there to check out the new models, open 100+ hoods, and see what the OEMs are doing with their A/C systems. We were not surprised to see more vehicles using the new refrigerant, but we really didn’t expect to see as many as we did. I myself thought there would be some increased expansion within a few carlines, but we found it in close to half of the vehicles we saw on the floor. In fact, we calculated recent surveys at about 48%!

Figure 1 - Cadillac became the first US brand to use R-1234yf back in 2012, and now we’ve seen it in six of their models, including this 2017 XT5 crossover.

Several newcomers brought yf to the show, including brands like Subaru, Kia, Chevy and Buick. So far Subaru has only changed over their flagship Legacy sedan and Outback wagon, while Kia is using it in the Optima and Sportage. We also checked out FCA and as expected almost every vehicle on display uses yf. Not surprising, considering they changed over most products during the 2015 model year. But there are still a few holdovers like Caravan and Patriot, expected to be phased out of production soon.

As for the GM brands, technicians know that when a change is made to one specific model, changes to their sisters are not far off. For example, MACS reported back in August about GMC putting yf in the Acadia, and now we’re also seeing it in the Cadillac XT5 (Figure 1). Same goes for the Chevy Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 pickups, which both use yf along with the Canyon and Colorado.

Figure 2 - Many of the GM sister cars will change over to use yf at the same time, since they’re being built on the same platforms and come off of the same assembly lines. Examples include the Chevy Silverado 1500 / GMC Sierra 1500 (shown here), and Chevy Colorado / GMC Canyon pickup trucks.

All but a few Honda vehicles are using yf, and that likely has to do with their refresh schedule. Those vehicles that have already been changed over are also on new platforms or on to their next generation (like the Gen2 Ridgeline). So while HR-V and Odyssey have yet to be changed, we expect that they’re next on the list, and maybe we’ll see them using yf at next year’s show.

Although we were told back in 2015 that two of their vehicles would be using yf in the 2016 model year, we’ve only seen Toyota using it in the Tacoma pickup thus far. But inside sources tell MACS that a Lexus model is slated to get it next, and we’ll just have to wait for its introduction due sometime this spring.

Figure 3 - Ford already came out with their first yf vehicle last spring when they started sending 2017 Escapes to US dealers, but this year we saw them expand use of the gas into three more vehicles, the Focus, Fusion Energi, and F-150.
Figure 4 - We also saw what we think will be the first Volkswagen to use R-1234yf in the US, and that’s the 2018 VW Atlas R-Line. This prototype was on display in Philadelphia, and while there was no J639 label to be found (there was actually no labeling on this particular vehicle, not even in the door jambs), the shape of the service ports are a dead giveaway that it uses yf.

Here’s the most current list we’ve put together so far, showing which manufacturers are using R-1234yf refrigerant in production vehicles right now. Keep in mind that some of these may not be US-spec, available only in Europe or other parts of the world.

  • BMW i3 Electric, i8 Electric
  • Buick LaCrosse
  • Cadillac ATS-V, CTS-V, CT6, Escalade, XT5, XTS
  • Chevrolet Bolt EV, Camaro RS, Colorado LT Diesel, Malibu, Silverado 1500 LTZ & Z71, Spark EV, Suburban, Tahoe, Trax
  • Chrysler 200, 300, Pacifica
  • Citroën C4, Elysëe
  • Dodge Challenger, Charger, Dart, Durango, Journey
  • Fiat 500, 500L, 500X
  • Ford Escape, F-150, Focus, Fusion, Fusion Energi, Transit
  • GMC Acadia, Canyon SLT, Sierra 1500, Yukon XL & Denali
  • Great Wall Motor – Voleex C30
  • Honda Civic, CR-V, Fit EV, Pilot, Ridgeline
  • Hyundai Santa Fe, i30
  • Infinity Q50
  • Jaguar F-Pace, F-Type, XE, XF, XJ, XJL
  • Jeep Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Renegade, Wrangler
  • Kia Cadenza, Carenz, Cee’d2, Optima, Sorento, Sportage
  • Land Rover Discovery, LR4, Range Rover
  • Lexus GS450h
  • Lincoln MKZ
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Mitsubishi Mirage
  • Open Mokka
  • Peugeot 301, 308
  • Ram 1500
  • Renault Zoe 3
  • SAIC Motor – MG350 / Rover 350
  • Subaru BRZ, Forrester, Impreza, Legacy, Outback, XV
  • Tesla Model S
  • Toyota GT86, Prius Plus, Tacoma, Yaris HSD
Figure 5 - (Courtesty of Honeywell) MACS member Honeywell’s shows 20,892,897 cars worldwide use their Solstice yf brand refrigerant (as of 2/23/17).

Still not every OEM selling in the US has made the change, and even though we checked every car they had on the floor, we could only find R-134a being used by brands such as Acura, Infinity, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and VW. It will be interesting to see who waits the longest, but as of right now EPA has set 2021 as the model year deadline after which R-134a will not be allowed in new light duty vehicles.

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