PARIS (Reuters) -- France took formal steps to outlaw sales of several Mercedes models, raising the stakes in a standoff over parent company Daimler's use of a refrigerant banned by the European Union.
The government said it will maintain a sales freeze on models including the Mercedes A class, B class and CLA after Daimler contested the move in court.
Registrations "will remain forbidden in France as long as the company does not to conform to European regulations," the environment ministry said in a statement on Friday.
France has halted sales of Mercedes cars built since June 12 because of Daimler's refusal to stop using the air-conditioning refrigerant R134a, which has been banned from new vehicles since the start of the year. The blocked models account for most of the Mercedes brand's French business and 2 percent of its global deliveries.
An administrative court had ordered France on Thursday to re-examine the case after Daimler argued that the sales freeze had not followed EU procedures for "safeguard measures."
Daimler said it did not share the view of French authorities, who cited Article 29 of an EU framework directive allowing them to cease the registration of new cars in extreme cases where a vehicle poses a considerable risk for traffic safety or seriously jeopardizes the environment or public health.
"This argument is absolutely incomprehensible and cannot be applied in this case since virtually all new and used cars on European roads are equipped with the proven and safe refrigerant R134a and will continue to be so until the end of 2016," the company said on Friday.
The dispute centers on a German decision to let Daimler continue using R134a - a global-warming gas 1,400 times more potent than carbon dioxide - because of safety concerns about the replacement chemical R1234yf.
The European Commission has warned Germany of possible action over the move by its KBA motoring authority to re-certify the new Mercedes vehicles under older approvals granted for earlier models. That decision sidesteps the requirement to use R1234yf, made by Honeywell and Dupont.
The EU's "mobile air conditioning" directive bans R134a in models approved for sale since the start of 2011, but vehicles certified earlier have until 2017 to comply.
The auto industry agreed to adopt the Honeywell refrigerant after extensive testing, but Daimler broke ranks last year and said that its own tests had identified unacceptable risks.
Both chemicals may ignite when in contact with extremely hot surfaces or engine parts, releasing toxic hydrogen fluoride gas, but the Honeywell refrigerant can do so at slightly lower temperatures.
German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer has urged Brussels to let Daimler continue using the banned coolant until the KBA completes further crash-test analysis in coming weeks.
However, EU safeguard measures allow European governments to halt sales of the Mercedes cars until Brussels decides whether their KBA certification complies with EU rules.
National authorities can block sales when they suspect an "incorrect application" of EU regulations and when the vehicles would "seriously harm the environment", according to EU rules.
"This safeguard procedure will be put into effect immediately," the French environment ministry said on Friday.
France's sales freeze has so far prevented the delivery of 4,518 vehicles, 2,704 of which have already been sold to waiting customers, Daimler said in a court filing this month.