By MATT DAVIS
NISSAN BUILDS TRUCKS IN Mississippi, Mercedes-Benz in Alabama, and Toyota has been cranking out vehicles in California for a while. This is a great trend for all involved. I’ve just visited what may be the coolest cross-ocean transfer of all: the BMW factory in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.
Visiting German factories in Germany, Swedish factories in Sweden and the Brits in Britain is certainly a fabulous experience. But to visit upstate Gamecocks country and drive the Bimmers they build is a severely special journey that causes me to further rethink any no-global beliefs I may yet espouse. On a side plea, every single one of you needs to take a day in a big-time American car or truck factory. If you haven’t done so yet in your enthusiast life, shame on you. It’s inspiring. The best deal in Detroit used to be going to tour the Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck in the morning and then hitting the old Stroh’s brewery “taste test” tour in the afternoon. Sheetmetal and suds on a grand scale. (AutoWeek colleagues working out of the Gratiot Avenue offices on the old Stroh’s site tell me they can sometimes hear the beer ghosts stumbling through the halls.)
The BMW manufacturing plant and the Zentrum events center and museum rise out of the rolling countryside like a gleaming white space station. It’s all fairly surreal, especially when we’ve just come from Asheville, North Carolina, via several rural routes that pass through small valleys frozen in time, where half the people still hang out their fresh tobacco leaves to dry. This ain’t Bavaria, Toto. It’s better. A bunch of us were testing the latest X5 built on the premises and were invited to take a guided tour of the joint.
For the year ending Dec. 31, the 4700-plus workforce will have built about 110,000 X5s and 58,000 Z4s at the 2.4-million-square-foot plant. That’s more than 10 percent of all BMWs sold worldwide. The quality and attention to detail throughout body, paint and assembly, and the pride and positive attitude, are impressive. For those sniping about all the Bavarians that probably hold the plum management spots, that used to be the case back at the time of the groundbreaking ceremony in 1992, but now all you’ll hear around the watercoolers is South Carolinian with nary a southern German in the lot.
One more great moment in the lore of American manufacturing: The Germans and Carolinians used to hear continuous widespread skepticism regarding the build quality of South Carolina-sourced Bimmers despite all the big thumbs-up independent surveys. So at one point a teardown comparison was staged involving the Spartanburg plant and factories in Germany. Fewer faults were found in the American product and all skeptics were summarily hushed for good.
Before soaring back to my adopted home in the old country, I moseyed around the cities of Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina. The economic impact of BMW and its suppliers on this once severely hurting area of the country is thrilling to see. At a few stops I kicked up conversation about the greatness all around and absolutely every person replied that if it hadn’t been for BMW and its ongoing total commitment and investment that more than likely none of this would be here today. Another nice effect is how it makes it possible to keep subsequent generations returning to live in and support the area where they grew up.
So shell out the five bucks ($3.50 if you’re a BMW club member), gather in the factory’s K-platz, put on your protective glasses and headphones, and prepare to want an American-built car even more than before.
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