Rumours of a GLB have been making the Internet rounds since mid-May 2014, and Mercedes finally confirmed the boxy crossover last week by unveiling a concept at Auto Shanghai. Later the same week, the company announced during the New York Auto Show plans to reveal the production version this summer. Fast forward to current day, more news has emerged about the GLK-esque model set to offer a seven-seat layout.
In an article detailing the hurdles it had to face while developing the concept, we learn the production version is going to be built in Aguascalientes, Mexico. It’s a new factory representing a 50:50 joint venture between Mercedes’ parent company Daimler and the Renault-Nissan Alliance. The A-Class Saloon will also be assembled there, which isn’t really all that surprising considering the two models share a lot of the hardware. Mercedes will also assemble the GLB in Peking, China to cater to the local market.
Gallery: Mercedes-Bens Concept GLB
The blog post published on Daimler’s website goes on to mention the GLB will go on sale before the end of the year, although it does not specify which markets will be getting the crossover first. China seems like a safe guess, but reports are indicating Mercedes will have the high-riding vehicle on sale in the United Kingdom in early 2020.
As for the Concept GLB, it has a rather interesting story since the people involved in the project were given the green-light in September 2018. As Mercedes explains, a showcar takes about 12 to 18 months from start to finish, but in this case, the team only had about 7 months to get the job done in order to have the concept ready for Auto Shanghai. Codenamed SC 037 (after Showcar Number 37), the vehicle had to have a seven-seat layout to highlight its special status in the company’s compact car range.
The people working on the concept had to borrow parts from several other vehicles to complete the GLB showcar. The first version of the concept went on to receive more than a thousand parts to become worthy of an auto show, with many of the bits and pieces specifically developed for the concept.
You can read the full story about the Concept GLB’s road to Auto Shanghai in the press release area below.
Gallery: 2020 Mercedes GLB new spy photos
GLB Concept Car – From the workbench to the show stage
If this were “Guess my Line”, I could rightly claim to be working in showbusiness. However, it’s not me in the limelight, but the showcars that my colleagues and I build for auto shows around the world. Our latest project was the Concept GLB which celebrated its world premiere at the Auto Shanghai show on April 15.
Intentionally overdone: striking design in the style of an expedition vehicle
Incidentally, the in-house name for the Concept GLB is SC 037 – Showcar Number 37. Why do we build showcars at all? To give people an appetite for new cars, or “prepositioning” as our colleagues in Marketing would call it. As “mobile shop windows”, they provide an outlook on coming models or test how well an idea is received by the public. For the Concept GLB we intentionally overdid the off-road aspect a little. Thanks to its many striking features such as the large wheels or the mighty roof structure, the car looks as if it could embark on an expedition lasting many months right away.
In fact this is not the type of car I personally prefer. What I would like at some time is a workshop to tinker in, and one or more recent classics. A R 107 would fit the bill very well. Or a 123-series coupé, or an R 170 …
Puzzle for advanced players: 12 wire mesh crates with parts
Normally we start to build a showcar 12 to 18 months before its show debut is due. But what can be called normal in our area of work? In the case of the Concept GLB, we only received the final go-ahead in September 2018. Apart from sketches, there was a 1:1 clay model as a basis. And as the production car was due to enter the market before the end of 2019, this sounded like a fairly relaxed proposition.
But as so often, things turned out differently … Because we were rather late in the day, we were not able to have a so-called B-vehicle built in the start-up factory here in Sindelfingen, but instead had to take a car that already had a previous life. One condition was that it was a seven-seater, something special in this class and correspondingly important for the PR strategy. This greatly reduced the choice of vehicle even further. And then of course, we wanted our car to be in the best possible condition, without dents and holes in the body. Not so easy either, as prototypes often have a very eventful previous life, cover many thousands of kilometers in a short time and are fitted with all manner of measuring equipment.
Moreover, our starting vehicle was rather sparsely equipped, for example it only had the small MBUX screens. In the end we needed parts from another three vehicles to produce one that met our expectations.
The future GLB production plants, Peking/China and Aguascalientes/Mexico, are unfortunately not just around the corner. However the start-up factory is within calling distance, and this is where we obtained all their surplus parts. In this case “all” is even meant literally. The personnel in the stores filled a total of 12 wire mesh crates with assorted parts. Two 40-tonne trucks were needed to transport the parts from the plant to the workshop. And back again, as our goods receiving station refused accept them because this major truck delivery was somewhat unexpected …
Machined from solid: exclusive showcar features
All-in-all, we used a four-figure number of parts to upgrade the basic GLB. Many more parts were of course exclusively for the showcar, and unavailable for love or money anywhere else. Larger components such as fenders or wings were of laminated construction, with a negative form produced on the basis of data from the clay model. The part was then hand-laminated layer by layer using carbon fiber matting.
We also used many machined aluminum parts for the Concept GLB, for example the roof box console. The wheels were also machined from solid. By the way, for visual reasons the valves are always located on the insides of the wheels in our showcars – take a look next time you visit an auto show.
What challenges did we face when building up the Concept GLB? I can think of plenty: locating rare parts such as the covers on the seat rails. Convincing our colleagues at UI that we need an image of the show vehicle for the instrument cluster. And perhaps persuading the tire manufacturer to vulcanize the lettering on in orange. In other words, a great deal of effort for a one-off example whose public life is very limited, as the production model is due shortly. I’m not sure what will happen to the Concept GLB after its appearance at the show. Often these showcars are displayed for a last time to mark the production startup of the production model, before they wait for future appearances in the Museum’s collection.
Fast decisions, great flexibility: an expert team
In my job you need a talent for improvisation and must be able to work under time pressure. Also very important are a sense of humor and the ability to motivate people. This is because we work in small, manageable teams, each of around twelve people. They come from a wide variety of disciplines: they include designers, specialists for the interior and exterior, bodyshell and powertrain, electricians and mechatronics experts.
All in all there are 70 to 80 people in our department. However, we not only build showcars but also concern ourselves with research and production projects. These include e.g. major assembly carriers or so-called seat boxes, i.e. considerably reduced 1:1-scale models of the interior. Incidentally, we regularly work together with external specialists when building a showcar. This is not only for capacity reasons, but also makes confidentiality easier. In-house visitors from many departments in the development center are constantly going in and out of our workshop.
There are no eight-hour days as in a conventional office job. Times of intensely hard work alternate with more relaxed phases. Because we work on several showcars and research vehicles in parallel, and these have different lead times ranging from six months to one, two or three years, it usually balances out somehow.
First positive feedback: brief appearance before the actual premiere
And of course, caring for a display vehicle at a show is time-consuming. But I really enjoy that, because it’s great so be there when the vehicle is unveiled and meets public approval. For the Concept EQ we also accompanied the filming in America. In this case the reactions were even more direct. I remember a small boy who found the car simply wonderful. During a later conversation, it turned out that his father worked for Tesla. Incidentally, I had the pleasure of driving the Concept EQ for the cameras at the time. A great experience, here is a video of it.
For the Concept GLB there was also a so-called sneak preview before the actual show premiere. Before being dispatched to China, the car was shown to European journalists who were unable to travel to Shanghai. During this “mini world premiere” in Building 80 in Sindelfingen, the showcar was presented by designers Achim Badstübner and Hartmut Sinkwitz. The response was very positive, which naturally pleased me as one of the fathers of the Concept GLB.
Air travel in economy class: off to Shanghai by container
The Concept GLB was then loaded for transportation. We use converted sea containers that fit into aircraft. The times when auto makers chartered whole planes for their showcars are long gone. The Concept GLB likewise flew in economy. The most time-consuming aspect was not the transportation to Shanghai, but rather customs clearance in China. We had allowed three weeks for both. The boss of the forwarding agency was on the spot, so I was able to sleep well even in the final phase.
And after all, a showcar has never yet arrived too late for its show. I admit that we don’t always manage to get everything absolutely ready, and sometimes we quickly need a Plan B. In 2011 in Shanghai, for example, we had to get two or three people to push the Concept A onto the stage. Fortunately this went unnoticed in the general hubbub and the corresponding noise background of an auto show. Apart from which we quickly set the vapor generator to “faster”. As the saying goes, there’s no business like show business …