Big reveal planned at BMW plant in Greer today

Greenville NewsMarch 28, 2014 

— Still growing in its last teenage year, the Upstate’s BMW plant will get a new assignment today from the German automaker.

Company Chairman Norbert Reithofer, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Gov. Nikki Haley will be on hand in Greer as BMW is expected to announce the X7 and the construction plans needed to take its biggest SUV yet from conception to showrooms.

The X7 would enable BMW to compete with Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac for sales of three-bench luxury SUVs.

The announcement, scheduled for 1 p.m., comes at a time when BMW is in a tough fight with Mercedes as the top-selling luxury brand in the United States and with Volkswagen’s Audi brand in worldwide sales.

“Every automaker wants to go toe-to-toe against its competition. Not having a full-size, 3-row SUV was a hole in BMWs line-up,” John McElroy, an auto industry analyst, told The Greenville News.

“These vehicles are also extremely profitable, so not only was BMW letting its competitors roam freely in that segment, it was leaving a lot of money on the table.”

A site plan BMW filed with the Spartanburg County Planning and Development Department details plans to build a 675,000-square-foot body shop, BMW’s third on the campus, near the intersection of Interstate 85 and Brockman McClimon Road.

The plans also show a 371-space expansion of an existing employee parking lot, a new road onto the campus and space for a future “energy center.”

Almost 20 years old, the Upstate plant has expanded numerous times since the first American-made BMW — a 318i sedan — rolled off the assembly line on Sept. 8, 1994.

And Friday’s news of what BMW billed as a “significant economic and product announcement” comes as BMW Manufacturing Co. is nearing completion of a $900 million expansion and the production rollout of its fourth vehicle — the X4 sports activity coupe.

That expansion will push production capacity up to 350,000 vehicles this year, with Friday’s announcement expected to add at least 50,000 vehicles per year.

The local plant is the home to most of BMW’s family of X vehicles and already produces the X3, X5 and X6 models.

The big plant along Interstate 85 now has approximately 8,000 workers on site and supports another 22,000 jobs through its supply chain. Friday’s announcement could add hundreds of new jobs with hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment.

Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner told The News that it’s “really hard to imagine where we would be without BMW and the emergence of the automotive industry in the Upstate.

“Not only has it replaced a large portion of the jobs and income lost by the textile industry that dominated the region two decades ago, but BMW has helped encourage a wave of investment in higher-paying manufacturing jobs in the Upstate and other areas.”

Handelsblatt, a German business newspaper, reported that production of the X7 goes hand-in-hand with BMW’s introduction of the i3 electric runabout that went on sale late last year.

The newspaper said that BMW’s X models have been enormous profit makers but that their carbon footprint needed to be balanced with electric and hybrid vehicles to meet the European Union’s fleet fuel emissions target.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported BMW’s plans last week, said that most of the X7s would be sold in the United States, with some being exported to China, the Middle East and Europe.

BMW Manufacturing Co. has typically exported about 70 percent of its vehicles for years. U.S. dealers have long said they could sell more of the X vehicles produced here — especially the new X5 that hit showrooms last fall — if they could only get their hands on more.

The plant will mark its 20th year of production this fall, and its continued growth and growing importance to the Upstate’s economy continues to astonish economists.

“Back when the plant was announced I mentioned to the press that BMW’s decision to locate their first North American manufacturing plant in Greer was a marquee industrial announcement that would announce to the world that a company can build a sophisticated, high-quality product in South Carolina and that more companies would likely follow BMW’s lead,” Vitner said.

“BMW has helped remake the Upstate’s economy in an extremely positive way, and the region is now known around the globe as where many of BMW’s most popular products are made.”

BMW was the top-selling luxury brand in the world in 2013 with sales of 1.66 million vehicles. Audi sold 1.58 million vehicles around the globe, with Mercedes a close third with sales of 1.57 million.

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