It’s been 30 years since BMW parked its North American manufacturing plant in the upstate, and the German automaker continues to electrify the local economy with the introduction of clean technology vehicles.
“More than just a major economic engine, BMW’s upstate operations — and the continued success of those operations — have helped transform South Carolina into a true manufacturing powerhouse,” the governor said recently. Henry McMaster when BMW announced a new $100 million logistics center to supply parts to the 7 million square foot plant in Spartanburg County.
BMW Group announced on June 23, 1992 that it would build its first full manufacturing facility outside of Germany in South Carolina. At that time, the company pledged to invest $600 million, employ 2,000 associates by the year 2000, and attract at least nine suppliers to the state.
Since the start of car production in 1994, the Spartanburg plant has manufactured more than 5 million vehicles (more than 1,500 per day) and uses the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport as well as the Greer Inland Port and the Port of Charleston to export nearly 70% of its automobiles to 120 world markets.
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Today, BMW Manufacturing employs more than 11,000 workers with more than 40 direct suppliers in South Carolina and 300 in the United States. The Spartanburg plant is the largest plant operated by the BMW Group worldwide.
Many employees are educated in the state’s advanced technical college system, including Spartanburg Community College. The Spartanburg plant also plans to open its own new technical training center this fall. It will include the BMW Scholars program, conducted by four upstate technical colleges.
A subsidiary of BMW AG in Munich, Germany, BMW Manufacturing in Spartanburg County is the worldwide producer of the BMW X3, X3 M, X5, X5 M and X7 sports activity vehicles and the X4, X4 M sports activity coupes , X6 and X6 M.
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Last year, the Spartanburg plant produced a record 433,810 vehicles, exporting 260,000 BMWs worth $10.1 billion, making it the largest auto exporter by value in the United States. United for the eighth consecutive year.
Connect to new technologies
Never a company to sit idle, BMW has been at the forefront of electric vehicle production. Last year, the Spartanburg plant saw a 48% increase in the number of electrified vehicles produced, with nearly 70,000 plug-in hybrids, primarily the X5 xDrive45e and X3 xDrive30e, shipped worldwide.
“Electric mobility is becoming a driver of growth and a success factor for the company,” said Robert Engelhorn, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, at the recent South Carolina Automotive Summit in Greenville. “Our factory is fully on board to support BMW Group’s electrification strategy.”
By the end of 2025, the company aims to have more than 2 million fully electric vehicles on the road. All-electric vehicles could account for 50% of the company’s global sales by 2030.
“Technology can solve problems, one of which is the climate,” Engelhorn said. “We continue to develop e-mobility for all our brands.”
Later this year, production of the BMW XM hybrid SUV at the Spartanburg plant will begin. It has a plug-in hybrid powertrain with a V8 engine with an electric motor.
“It is our responsibility to reduce the carbon footprint of customer segments and regions where infrastructure needs for electric vehicles are not yet sufficiently available,” Engelhorn said. “The further increase in the efficiency of internal combustion engines contributes to our goal of reducing overall CO2 emissions.”
Technological innovation includes the use of digitization and automation, which Engelhorn called “game changers.”
“Today, a 3D digital footprint of our factory enables virtual planning,” he said. “We are using artificial intelligence for material planning and closed-loop production systems, and our logistics operations are becoming increasingly autonomous.”
Retrospective: BMW to the rescue
Thirty years ago, Spartanburg was reeling from the loss of 25,000 textile jobs as factories closed or moved.
“To put it into perspective, from 1950 to 1990 there was $1.25 billion invested in Spartanburg County by industry and 2,500 jobs created, and a large part of that was the investment of Michelin (at a truck tire plant) in 1978,” Spartanburg County said. Councilor David Britt, Chairman of the County Economic Development Committee.
BMW was secretly looking to build a production plant outside of Germany, and in the United States was considering four locations – Phoenix, Omaha, Tulsa and Anderson. In late 1991 it was Anderson and Omaha, then in early 1992 BMW changed its interest from Anderson to Spartanburg due to proximity to GSP airport and I-85, said Britt.
BMW needed 400 acres of land, which eventually grew to 1,200 acres.
Then-Governor. Carroll Campbell assembled a team that included Roger Milliken, George Dean Johnson, Foster Chapman, Jimmy Mayo, Woody Willard, Carter Smith, and Spartanburg County Council.
“We all worked with a sense of urgency and we all recognized the immense impact this opportunity could have on a county that was on life support,” Britt said.
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“Ultimately, the decision to come to Spartanburg was in large part due to the workforce that had served the textile industry for over 100 years and had proven exceptional skills in quality craftsmanship” , Britt said. “Also, the Port of Charleston was the icing on the cake and we had the best seller in the United States with Governor Campbell.
Not everyone agreed locally to give tax breaks to attract BMW.
“There was a loud group that fought us over the incentives and said we shouldn’t provide them,” Britt said.
“My response then and now has been the same, I’d rather have 25% of something than 100% of nothing,” Britt said.
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“Since BMW was born here in Spartanburg, we have invested nearly $16 billion, creating over 45,000 new jobs (combined with suppliers), including over 120 international companies and around 38 German companies right here in our county. “Britt said.
Britt said the ripple effect of 12,000 jobs trickles down to growth in schools, colleges, hospitals, churches, fire departments, county government parks and roads, grocery stores and more.
“BMW has been like oxygen for the body,” he said. “It breathes life into our county and our state every day. They are truly the gift that keeps on giving.”
The Zentrum Museum
The only BMW museum in North America is located at 1400 Highway 101 South in Greer. It is open Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The exhibits take visitors on free, self-guided tours through the company’s early days in aviation and motorsports through many milestones in racing and touring vehicles to rising to prominence on the scene. world.
Visitors can also see a selection of vehicles from the BMW X family up close, produced right next door at the Spartanburg plant.
This story will appear in the fall edition of Spartanburg Magazine.
Contact Bob Montgomery at [email protected] Please support our coverage of Spartanburg County with a digital subscription.