BMW first began selling its cars in America in the mid-1950s and as their popularity grew, the carmaker began to consider making some of them there. The decision was finally made in the early 1990s, and Spartanburg County in the state of South Carolina was chosen for the factory site. It would be the first full production factory outside Germany and was intended to be a global production hub.
The first car – a 3-Series sedan – rolled out in September 1994, and was followed by the Z3 and Z4 models in the years that followed. The output was not only sent to distributors around North America but also worldwide, shipped out of Port of Charleston which is nearby and one reason why BMW chose Spartanburg.
BMW’s first and still only factory in the USA began by making the 3-Series in 1994, followed by the Z3 and Z4 (below).
In 1999, the plant was designated as the global production hub for the new SAVs, starting with the X5. Today, it is the global centre of competence for X models.
Global centre of competence for X models
The Spartanburg factory began making the first Sports Activity Vehicle (SAVs) in 1999, with the X5, and today produces five X models (X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7). These include plug-in hybrid electric variants which accounted for 13 percent of the factory’s total production last year. BMW has assembled batteries for electrified vehicles since 2015, making the BMW Group a pioneer of electromobility in the USA.
In over 25 years, BMW Plant Spartanburg’s employment level has risen to more than 11,000 people who build 1,500 BMWs every day. The current facility represents a total investment of US$10.6 billion that includes two massive body shops, two paint shops, two assembly halls and an elaborate logistics operation.
Because it exports more than two-thirds of its product, the BMW factory makes a considerable impact on US economic growth A 2018 study by the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina estimated the annual economic impact of BMW Manufacturing on the US economy, measured in terms of overall output, was US$38.5 billion.
Seventh consecutive year as top exporter
Last year, for the seventh consecutive year, BMW Plant Spartanburg again topped the chart for automotive exports from the USA by value, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The factory exported 218,820 SAVs and Coupes during 2020 with an export value of more than US$8.9 billion.
While 86% of the vehicles were exported through the Port of Charleston, other ports along the east coast of the country were also used, as well as rail transport. The exports go to more than125 countries around the world. The top 5 export countries were China (23.3% of export volume), Germany (12.9%), South Korea (7.8%), Canada (6%), and Russia (5.3%).
BMW Spartanburg exports vehicles by sea as well as by rail (below).
Like all automotive manufacturers, BMW experienced a production interruption due to the coronavirus pandemic. After a 5-week non-production period, activity in the factory resumed for one shift daily from May 4. With new health guidelines and procedures in place, production slowly ramped up as the supply chain stabilized and demand rose. During the second half of the year, the factory produced nearly 218,000 BMWs, a record for any 6-month period in its history. By year’s end, the total output was 361,365 vehicles for the whole of 2020.
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