With vehicles rolling off the assembly line at a rate of about one per minute, most of the 11,000 workers building BMWs at Plant Spartanburg couldn’t pause even to celebrate 25 years of production.
But a few of them did stop to mark the occasion Monday morning, including a few of the plant’s original employees and its chief, Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing.
Flor and BMW worker Ryan Childers unveiled a specially marked red, white and blue BMW X7 that displayed 25-year totals for vehicles produced — 4.75 million — and vehicles exported. In dollar value, the plant now is the nation’s No. 1 exporter of vehicles and has shipped most of its 3 million exports though Charleston ports.
Plant Spartanburg’s genesis goes back to June 1992 when BMW Chairman Eberhard von Kuenheim announced the company would build its first full production factory outside of Germany. BMW chose South Carolina as the location because of the deepwater port of Charleston, its advanced technical college system and the state’s strong work ethic, according to a news release and comments made by several speakers during the brief ceremony. Two years later, in September 1994, the first BMW built in the United States rolled off the assembly line in Spartanburg County as hundreds of workers cheered.
That car, signed by the workers who built it, was on display Monday. Longtime employees looked for their signatures, as did one former employee: current S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt.
“Over the course of history here, very few events will take place that have the power and significance to transform an entire state,” said Hitt, who was hired to manage public affairs for the plant when it first opened. “An occurrence of that magnitude is rare but 25 years ago production began at this BMW facility and one such event transpired in South Carolina.”
Hitt said the plant “transformed South Carolina from its old identity to its current one.”
“You have to remember 25-plus years ago we were what I call a three T state: textiles, tobacco and tourism,” he said. “Today we are an automotive and aerospace state ... and all of that goes back to what we’re celebrating here today. And that was demonstrating to the world that the men and women of South Carolina could build the most complex consumer product on the face of the earth.”
BMW Plant Spartanburg builds 1,500 BMWs every day. The current facility represents an investment of $10.6 billion that includes two massive body shops, two paint shops, two assembly halls and an elaborate logistics operation, according to the news release. Every day, the Spartanburg team produces five top-selling BMW X models and four Motorsport X models sold in more than 125 countries around the world.
“This plant has been successful because of our people — their performance, passion and pride,” Flor said. “Over the past 25 years, we have had continuous investment, excellent facilities and the best equipment. What makes the difference is the spirit of our associates, their passion for excellence and the pride they have in their work.”