Volume 13 | Issue 3 | Year 2010

Woe betide the historian who tries to encapsulate the BMW Manufacturing saga into a concise account.
The company‘s story is so replete with milestones that there’s only one good way to relate the narrative, and that’s in chronological fashion. After all, every chapter – indeed, every element – of its rich tapestry could produce numerous headlines, press releases or feature articles.

So, how to begin? The beginning is a good start, and that places us in a region that proved attractive to the parent company (the Munich, Germany-based BMW Group).

“In 1992, BMW announced that it would establish a facility in the United States, and it was decided that the best site would be in South Carolina, specifically Spartanburg,” recalls Max Metcalf, communications manager for this U.S. manufacturer of the global company’s worldwide operations.

The state may have seemed an unlikely site. However, the parent company’s forward-focused principals recognized the region’s assets. Most particularly, they liked the existing transportation infrastructure, which included deepwater ports and modern rail and road systems (not to mention proximity to a major airport). They also liked the fact that a robust and local workforce was willing and waiting to staff the shop floor.

By 1994, the company turned out its first vehicle (a 318i, the first American-made BMW model). This milestone was so far beyond the business practice of nailing the first-earned dollar upon the wall. After all, what BMW Manufacturing accomplished between the 1992 announcement and the 1994 rollout represented the fastest startup in automotive history.

True, the Spartanburg enterprise benefited by strong genetics – its parent is a world-leading automotive industry force – but give the progeny its due. BMW’s accomplishments and impact on the U.S. automotive industry can’t be denied. The company’s production site was not only BMW’s first full manufacturing facility outside of Germany, but it was also the first U.S. automobile manufacturing plant to use water-based paints. But that’s just one point to ponder. Consider subsequent milestones:

  • A year after startup, the company steered the first Z3 Roadster off of its assembly line;
  • Soon after, BMW Manufacturing Company achieved ISO 9002 certification;
  • In 1997, after expanding its investments within its home state, the company produced its 100,000th roadster;
  • A 1998 plant expansion accommodated production of the X5 model;
  • In 1999, soon after X5 production got underway, the company produced its 200,000th roadster;
  • That same year, the company announced plans to expand its production facilities by 108,000 square feet.

Then, as the company headed into the new millennium, it announced a $300 million plant expansion. After this turn-of-the-century signpost, developments came fast and furious. By 2001, X5 production numbers reached six figures. The same year, the company shipped its 250,000th roadster model. In 2002, following its path of continual financial support, the company invested $400 million into its facilities, a move that bolstered the region’s economy by generating 400 new jobs.

That same year, the company marked its 10th anniversary (BMW Manufacturing Company likes to celebrate success at five-year intervals). “Last September, we celebrated our 15th anniversary of production,” reports Metcalf, “and ever since then, we have continued growing. But growth is not just related to investment in our facilities. The appeal of our product mix also plays a significant role in BMW’s overall growth.”

Metcalf merely hints at the product diversity that BMW Manufacturing Company offers. From Spartanburg, BMW manufactures the X5 Sports Activity Vehicle, the X5 xDrive35d (Advanced Diesel Vehicle), the X5 M, as well as the X6 Sports Activity Coupe, the X6 ActiveHybrid and the X6 M.

What’s going to happen next for a company that continuously moves forward? Keep reading.

“Our next major milestone will be the opening of our new plant,” Metcalf states.

Investment into upgrades at the Spartanburg site is anything but Spartan. In 2008, BMW announced plans to endow the effort with $750 million. Dollars translate into increased footage and, specifically, this means an additional 1.5 million square feet spread across the South Carolina site.

During 2009, the company engaged in construction to further the dream. Later this year, the dream should become a reality, according to Metcalf. “Everything is currently under construction, but we’re looking to be up and running by late 2010, and this will be our next major milestone,” he says.

As development proceeds, engineering and construction crews have focused efforts on the new assembly facility and are adding 300,000 square feet to its existing paint shop, already a formidable structure.

This investment (in terms of dollars, effort and scope) is the largest ever for the Spartanburg-based enterprise. The company adds that the new plant design is very similar to BMW’s Leipzig, Germany plant, the newest facility within the BMW Global Production Network. Like the Leipzig facility, the upgraded Spartanburg site has been designed with a “hand” and “finger” concept, describes Metcalf.

“The human hand is a good metaphor, because the plant has a main line that goes through the middle of the building – which is much like the ‘life line’ the runs through a hand – and then there are ‘fingers’ that branch off into different directions, and within these ‘fingers’ we have the ability to expand, enabling us to increase capability and functionality over time and as needed.”

This new assemblage also includes a logistics warehouse, and this underscores commitment to lean manufacturing principles, according to the company. In the expanded paint shop area, BMW is adding several new technologies, many borrowed from other BMW plants, including the Leipzig plant. For instance, the Spartanburg facility will implement the new “RoDip” system, a
new conveyor system that represents a breakthrough in paint conveyor technology for pre-treat and e-coat processes. Previously, according to the company, BMW Manufacturing used a “pendulum” system, similar to a ski lift, which carried a car along a rail and lowered it under the water. The new “RoDip” system rotates the entire vehicle 360 degrees through each process tank. This reduces the amount of chemicals removed from tanks and reduces chemical and dirt deposits inside the vehicle (a capability that underscores BMW‘s environmental commitment).

As the company relates, once the new paint shop and assembly facility are operational, the BMW plant in Spartanburg will manufacture the BMW X3, X5 Sports Activity Vehicle and X6 Sports Activity Coupe and their respective variants for more than 120 markets worldwide (and for the markets’ customers keen on customization – BMW Manufacturing customizes as much as 80 percent of the products sold to consumers).

Meanwhile, with the new plant, new capabilities and new products, BMW Manufacturing Co. will need to hire a historian just to keep the public abreast of where it has been and where it is going. What the company has already accomplished and plans to accomplish is mind boggling, and someone will need to carefully explain.

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