BMW to boost production in S.C.

Production of the BMW X3 sport utility vehicle - the X5’s little brother - will be moving from Austria to South Carolina's Upstate in the next few years, helping to increase the German automaker’s U.S. plant by about a third, the company’s chief executive said today.

Norbert Reithofer, BMW’s chief executive and former Greer plant manager, told shareholders that the next generation X3 SUV will be made at the company’s only U.S. plant, increasing its production capacity to about 200,000 cars per year.

The plant is now capable of making about 140,000 to 150,000 cars a year under normal conditions, said Robert Hitt, a spokesman for the Spartanburg County plant.

Still unanswered is whether that capacity increase will generate more jobs or increase the size of the plant.

“We’re looking at all of that," Hitt said. "We like to analyze and plan.”

The plant now has about 4,500 permanent BMW workers and about 800 to 1,000 workers employed by contractors for jobs ranging from construction to driving forklifts.

BMW production workers at the plant earn about $25 to $26 per hour. Hitt said contract workers make more than the state’s average manufacturing wage, which was $15.76 in March.

In January, Greer plant spokesman Bob Nitto, said BMW expected production to rise 58 percent this year, nearly reaching its record production of 2003 and ending the string of production declines since then.

The plant's 4,500 workers are expected to have made 165,000 vehicles by the end of this year, up from 104,632 in 2006.

The redesigned X5 sport utility vehicle is expected to drive the increase, with its production nearly doubling to about 130,000 vehicles. Production of the Z4 and related coupes is expected to decline slightly to 35,000 cars, down from 38,756 last year.

And in 2008, the plant is expected to add a new coupe to the production line, one that BMW now refers to as a sports-activity coupe. The term is a variation of the moniker BMW adopted in 1999 for the X5 - a sports-activity vehicle.

The automotive press is referring to the new car as the BMW X6, the crossover vehicle company officials have said previously would be built at Greer.