There are two milestones dominating the news out of BMW Manufacturing Co., BMW’s only U.S. manufacturing facility in Spartanburg County in upstate South Carolina, and both involve the high level of engineering and design expertise that have placed BMW at the fore of the automotive industry.
The first involves the X-5 sport activity vehicle, which has undergone a major “under-the-hood” overhaul in recent months, with 2,100 new parts, three engine options, plus a new 4.8-liter engine option, and four new colors. The start of its production through the assembly line in April culminated extraordinary effort among 500 companies to create a seamless process.
The second entails the facility’s continuing commitment to the community and to the industry it serves; the latter has prompted a partnership with Clemson University for the establishment of an International Center for Automotive Research and a graduate school of automotive engineering. The fusion between academics and business represents the highest and best cooperation between entities for the advancement of technology and industry.
Both events cap what has been a noteworthy 11 years for the BMW Group in its South Carolina plant, an operation strategically sited in a geographic region that has become known in recent years as “Detroit South” and which has helped to build and strengthen the economy. By all accounts, BMW Manufacturing has established itself as a good neighbor, furthering BMW’s global business while creating a sprawling campus of social and economic vitality.
The X-5 sport activity vehicle or SAV, had reached mid-life. That was the determination of BMW engineers and designers, who sought to make changes to the vehicle this year, five years after its introduction. What ensued, however, was more than just a facelift, reports Bunny S. Richardson, assistant manager of media relations at BMW Manufacturing Corp. “When we do facelifts on vehicles they usually tend to be an update of the exterior, but with the X-5 we almost created a new car under the hood,” she says.
Indeed, the 2004 X-5 model changeover involved 2,100 new parts and three new engines and four new colors. Engine choices include a 3-, 4.4-, and 4.6-liter and now, as of April, a 4.8 high-performance engine is also offered as an option.
The rationale behind the revamp entails the rapid pace of changing automotive technology; what was state-of-the-art five years ago, while still considered technologically superior, is not as advanced as what is offered on the market today.
“Technology and engineering are changing at a fast pace,” Richardson says, explaining that the lifecycle of a model is seven years, during which technology changes dramatically. “That’s why we historically have done facelifts on vehicles; but with 2,100 new parts, this really is a new car.”
The extraordinary part of the X-5 story, she adds, is that only a 10-car gap existed between the 2003 X-5 and the 2004 model during the model changeover on the production line. “In one day we turned it around,” she adds, “which means all of our suppliers – almost 500 companies – needed to be involved to make sure the transition was seamless. It called for a digital changeover which was done in a matter of hours.”
When the first new X-5 came across the barrier, the plant broke out in applause, she adds. “It’s like their baby; it was an accomplishment.”
“This vehicle sells very well because it’s built on a car platform, not a truck platform,” Richardson explains. “It rides like a car and not a truck and has a very elegant look.” X-5 performance features include all season traction for all-wheel drive, dynamic stability control (DSC-X) with cornering brake control, hill descent control, engine speed sensitive power steering, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with ventilated front discs and electronic front/rear proportioning and twin-tube gas-pressure shock absorbers. For comfort and convenience, the car offers power windows with key-off operation; one touch opening and closing of all door windows, active-charcoal micro-filter ventilation, keyless entry with multi-function remote control and automatic headlight control as well as BMW ambiance lighting. Other features include a state-of-the-art audio system, security devices and instrumentation and controls, including a four-function onboard computer plus onboard navigation system. Buyers may also choose the premium package, which features GPS satellites and BMW technology that help plot course and destination.
While the X-5, described by BMW as a “Jack-of-all-Trades, Master-of-all-Roads,” and winner of “10 Best” from Car and Driver three years in a row, underwent a major overhaul, the Z-4 Roadster, BMW Manufacturing’s other premier production vehicle, launched more recently in 2002, is still considered next generation technology. Both the X-5 and Z-4 Roadster are built in Spartanburg for 124 worldwide markets, a challenge for BMW Manufacturing because of the different environmental and safety standards that must be considered worldwide. “From a quality standpoint we have to make sure we do more than throw a switch,” Richardson says plainly.
The fact that BMW’s culture is to achieve utmost quality and efficiently – effectively much more than throwing a switch – is borne out in its record sales. Company wide, BMW reported an 11.5 percent increase in April sales of automobiles and Sports Activity Vehicles, to 23,419 vehicles compared to the 21,010 reported last April, making it the strongest retail month on record. Sales of sport activity vehicles alone were up 78 percent in April to 4,832, compared to 2,716 vehicles sold in April 2003.
Outside of the production line, BMW Manufacturing has sought to build interest and motivation within the region, hoping to attract the next generation of designers and engineers. In partnership with Clemson University, the automotive company has provided endowments for professors hips and to develop a curriculum for the Carroll A. Campbell Graduate School of Automotive Engineering located at Clemson’s research campus, called the International Center for Automotive Research, in Greenville.
“We pledged a $10 million endowment to work with the university on the research campus,” Richardson says, noting the South’s demographic change in the last several years to become the hub for automotive manufacturing. “This research campus will put us in the position to be on the cutting edge, and we will be working with our R&D center in Munich to move us along.” Combined with Clemson’s strong engineering program, the research center will serve as the mecca for automotive’s future in the South, and is envisioned as the place at which future engineers and executives will hone their skills.
In addition to reaching out to the realm of academics, BMW believes in good corporate citizenship and supports various charitable organizations. To achieve this, the company holds the BMW Charity ProAm at The Cliffs tournament annually; a total of $2.3 million was raised for upstate charities from the first four tournaments.
Leading the way
BMW Manufacturing’s place in the world has been heightened not only because of its role within the socio-economic dynamics of the region, but because of its very being. As a facility measuring more than 2.4 million square feet that last year produced 166,092 units and employs 4,700 people, it has contributed significantly to its corporation’s overall growth: in 2001, one out of six BMWs sold throughout the world was produced at the South Carolina facility and the factory has been in a constant state of growth since it opened.
Its presence in Spartanburg culminated the realization on the part of BMW Group in Germany that a company with a global sales reach also needed to spread out its manufacturing strength from Southern Germany, where most of its factories were located. BMW next launched a planning committee that looked at more than 300 sites as prospective manufacturing locations before setting its vision on Spartanburg County, an upstate region that had an eager workface, many with manufacturing experience. Spartanburg itself was in close proximity to necessary transportation facilities, such as an interstate highway system and rail to the deepwater port of Charleston and its centralized location in the southeast benefited distribution to BMW dealerships. The move contributed to the overall growth of sales in the United States.
As strong is the company’s commitment to advance both its place in its corner of the world as well as the lives of those around it – the two goals somehow form a symbiotic relationship. One, it seems, cannot take place without the other. “Education is important to us – we seek to use the plant as a learning tool. Because we work here in South Carolina we feel it’s important to give back to the community,” Richardson stresses.