ATLANTA — Mercedes-Benz is readying a downsized crossover for the U.S. to capitalize on growing demand for small premium products, the company told retailers this month at its annual national dealer meeting here.
The 2020 Mercedes GLB, which has been described as a "baby G class," likely will be built in Mexico on the MFA2 platform that underpins the brand's other small front-wheel-drive vehicles. It will be a five-seater, with an optional seven-seat configuration, according to dealers at the meeting.
The GLB is one of two new small models Mercedes plans for the U.S., Mercedes officials confirmed to dealers. Earlier, the company said it will introduce an A-class sedan this year that is expected to be Mercedes' new entry-level vehicle.
Mercedes showed retailers preproduction versions of the GLB and A class. Pricing and launch dates were not disclosed, but dealers expect the GLB to hit showrooms in the fourth
quarter of 2019.
"It fills the void in between the current GLA that we have and the current GLC," said Jeff Aiosa, owner of Mercedes-Benz dealership Carriage House of New London, in Connecticut, and the Mercedes brand representative for the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Spy shots of a GLB prototype testing in Scandinavia show a boxy vehicle with angular lines. The shape will maximize interior space for the vehicle's size.
Greg Barnes, president of Bill Ussery Motors in Coral Gables, Fla., and chairman of the Mercedes-Benz Dealer Board, told Automotive News that the GLB "reminded me a little of the boxiness of the GLK. It's a functional, small SUV, more of a people mover, whereas the GLA is sportier."
The GLB is expected to be built at a new Daimler-Nissan joint venture assembly plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico. That plant also will assemble the A-class sedan, which shares the same platform and will go on sale in the U.S. and other markets late this year.
Along with the GLB, revamped versions of the GLE midsize crossover and GLS large SUV are expected next year.
Consumers' preference for SUVs and crossovers is evident in Mercedes' sales projections.
According to dealers, the company said it expects its North American light truck-to-sedan sales mix to climb to 60-40 in 2020, roughly the reverse of the 2014 ratio. A Mercedes-Benz spokesman declined to comment on the dealer meeting discussions.
Barnes expects the slate of new and revamped products to boost dealer profitability. From January through April, Mercedes dealers eked out a 0.3 percent increase in profits compared with the same period last year.
Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Dietmar Exler told Automotive News after the meeting that the A class is part of a product wave coming to showrooms.
Mercedes expects to introduce, on average, "a first-ever or totally redesigned" vehicle every two months over the next few years, he said.
This year, the automaker will launch a redesigned G-Wagen and CLS Coupe, as well as a new AMG GT four-door coupe and the new-to-North America A class.
"In eight months, Mercedes will introduce four new vehicles, and that pace will continue as we get substantially more cars down the road," Exler said.
But he stopped short of commenting on the GLB.
"We are always taking a look at, is there an opportunity in the market to bring a new vehicle?" he said. "So let's see what's going to happen."
Exler acknowledged the shift in the U.S. toward SUVs and crossovers.
"We've seen C-class sales coming down, GLC going up," Exler said. "We are always working to optimize our product portfolio."
Exler is optimistic the A class will be well-received.
Mercedes initially hesitated to bring the A class to the U.S. because of its small size, but the CLA's success showed that U.S. consumers would embrace a smaller sedan, he said, adding that more than 60 percent of CLA buyers are new to the brand.
Exler said the new sedan "will do really, really well — probably at least as good, if not better, than the CLA did for us."
Mercedes decided against launching the hatchback version of the A class in the U.S., in deference to local tastes.
"The old station wagon concept is not very popular in the U.S.," Exler said. "You have to cater, to some extent, to the different customer styles in a market."