Automotive HVAC market heats up

R-1234yf is mandated by the European Union for adoption in all cars by 2017; but production volumes, price and safety issues are causing concern.


IMS Research (acquired by IHS, Inc.)The refrigerant R-1234yf used in automotive HVAC systems is causing controversy throughout the supply chain. R-1234yf is mandated by the European Union for adoption in all cars by 2017, but production volumes, price and safety issues are causing concern. A report from IMS Research (now part of IHS Inc.) titled, The World Market for Automotive OEM Electronic Systems – 2013 Edition, analyses what impact this refrigerant will have, the total automotive HVAC market and the split between manual and automatic HVAC. Analysis on 35 other automotive electronic systems is also included in this study.

Refrigerant R-1234yf has been developed for automotive HVAC units by Honeywell and DuPont. The aim is to replace the traditional R-134a refrigerant found in most automotive HVAC units, with the more environmentally friendly R-1234yf. However, with only two suppliers of this refrigerant, there has already been a shortage of R-1234yf. This production shortfall will need to be addressed for future applications.

An advantage of R-1234yf is that it can be used in current automotive HVAC systems, with few modifications. “Using R-1234yf in existing Tier 1 automotive HVAC systems would mean some alterations to system design. This could raise system price by $50-75”, said Ben Scott, analyst with IMS Research. “The price of R-1234yf is also considerably higher than R-134a.” This could be an issue for Tier 1s and OEMs alike as they look to justify the price to their customers.

Safety is critical in the automotive market. R-1234yf has been rigorously tested and meets safety regulations within the European Union. However, in its own independent study, Daimler has cast doubt onto the safety of this refrigerant. Daimler found R-1234yf to combust when it touches a hot engine, while R-134a did not, in the same test. “Although this could be a legitimate result to a test with R-1234yf, it could be Daimler trying to avoid using the new refrigerant, because of the high system and development cost”, said Scott. However, R-1234yf still has backing from Toyota and GM.

The controversy surrounding R-1234yf and R-134a needs to be resolved soon because this could impact the fitment of HVAC systems within cars. Some form of air conditioning is now expected to feature in most B and C segment vehicles, with a definite trend towards ‘automatic’ HVAC over ‘manual.’ It is estimated that globally, over one third of vehicles had automatic HVAC in 2010, rising to over half of all vehicles by 2020.

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