During his first stint in Greer from 1996 until 2000, when Knudt Flor was an executive under former BMW Manufacturing presidents, no one expected the local factory to become the German automaker’s top producing plant, the way Flor remembers.
But thanks to investment that’s been matched by market demand, that’s exactly what’s come as Flor has returned to serve, himself, as BMW Manufacturing president and CEO.
On the job now for two months since taking over for Manfred Erlacher, who’s moved on to a new role in Germany, Flor sees a bright and more technologically advanced future in store for a plant that’s aiming to build on its clout.
“This is why I’m very happy to be here,” Flor said Friday during a meeting with a handful of reporters. “The good out of all this is we will continue to grow.”
Never miss a local story.
That will come, Flor said, even if the company has to adapt or react to policies that change the terms of business.
President Donald Trump has targeted BMW among others in warnings about imposing a border tax on cars imported into the United States.
BMW is building a factory in Mexico to produce its 3-Series sedans.
“I would tell BMW, if they want to build a factory in Mexico and sell the cars in the U.S. without paying a 35-percent tax, then they can forget about it,” Trump told the German newspaper Bild.
BMW Chief Executive Harald Krueger, calling for “free world trade,” has said the company’s investment plans for North America remain as planned, with the Mexico plant beginning production in a couple of years and the Greer plant soon to add a new X7, a larger luxury sports-utility vehicle that will enter the company into a new segment.
“The facts as of today are this (in Greer) is the biggest BMW plant in the world,” said Flor. “This itself I think is a statement. The second is we are exporting more than 70-percent of all the cars. This means we exported more than 280,000 cars last year from the United States in to the world. In return we imported less cars. We export much more than we import, and I think this makes BMW from my point of view, a local company – a U.S., local company.
“With the exports we create a lot of jobs. As of today we think more than 70,000 people are dependent with their jobs they get from BMW directly or indirectly… Everything is about job creation. It’s about wealth of the company, and it is about wealth of the country. This happens here.”
An expansion worth $1 billion remains under way in preparation for the new line of X7s. Production capacity is being increased, and new electric and hybrid models are soon to be on tap. Driverless technology will be tested at the plant in years to come.
Just how production and success shake out for the local plant will be determined by the market, Flor said. The years Flor has been gone have been good for the SUV models made in Greer.
And if popularity goes in favor of the X7 to come, production could grow further, still.
“In 2000 the market was more a sedan market,” Flor said. “We did not think that this would be one of the main interesting car concepts for the future. And then we saw the X models. They were very, very popular. As of today we can say the X5, for example, is one of the most popular cars in the BMW range.”
Total value of the vehicles exported by BMW’s Greer plant in 2015 reached $9.8 billion. The company is the nation’s leading automotive exporter by value.
Follow Michael Burns on Twitter @MikeAtGvlNwz