It was previously reported Mercedes-Benz will unveil a new fuel cell plug-in hybrid vehicle at the Frankfurt Motor Show, which will be based on the GLC SUV. Ahead of the big reveal, the company has dropped some details into the development of the GLC F-Cell, along with photos of several pre-production units.

The GLC F-Cell is being touted as a world first, combining hydrogen fuel cell and battery technology into a plug-in hybrid. Look closely, and you’ll be able to spot the two inlets – one to charge the rear-mounted batteries and the other to refill the hydrogen tanks.

Development of the green SUV started with a computer, where crash tests, aerodynamics analyses and chassis tests were all simulated. From there, the first few prototypes was built, where they would be subjected to the most demanding scenarios at the Vehicle Safety Technology Centre (TFS).

The facility is capable of replicating extreme weather events indoors, from temperatures ranging from minus 40 to plus 60 degrees Celsius, hurricanes with wind speeds of up to 265 km/h, tropical downpours and heavy snowstorms. The GLC F-Cell also received its final aerodynamic refinements in the wind tunnels in the Mercedes-Benz Technology Centre in Sindelfingen.

Once the prototypes were deemed roadworthy, they were sent for summer and winter road testing, which brought the GLC F-Cell to various parts of the world. From proving grounds in Spain, Sweden and Germany, to road tests across Europe, the test programme comprised more than 500 individual tests.

The tests were not only for durability and reliability, but also to ensure safety standards are met in relation to components like the hydrogen tanks, gas seals and valves, and high-voltage components. According to Mercedes-Benz, the hydrogen tanks in the GLC F-Cell are installed in the crash-protected area between the vehicle axles and are protected additionally by a subframe wrapped around the tanks.

In the event of a crash, a multi-stage valve system ensures no leakage, and the high-voltage system features special protective circuits to prevent any malfunction. The company says the fuel cell plug-in hybrid SUV achieved a level of safety comparable to that of conventional vehicles, and even exceeds its own in-house standards.

As a fun fact, the company used about 200 tonnes of hydrogen in their development tests since 2015. The only “exhaust gas” emitted was water vapour – 1800 tonnes of it in all.

Mercedes-Benz has been involved in hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for some time, with vehicles like the NECAR 1 (1994), A-Class F-Cell (2003) and F 015 Luxury In Motion concept (2015), just to name a few. There’s also the B-Class F-Cell, which participated in a round-the-world journey (F-Cell World Drive) that covered 30,000 km across 14 countries.

The carmaker says it has made over 300 research vehicles that feature a fuel cell powertrain, which collectively, have covered more than 18 million kilometres. As such, Mercedes-Benz is getting ready for the series production of fuel cell vehicles, and the GLC F-Cell will most likely be the first. More details will be revealed when the vehicle makes its debut in Frankfurt.