How It's Made
The massive BMW Manufacturing facility, which occupies 1140 acres of Spartanburg, South Carolina, looms across the street from the Performance Center. Founded in 1994, the factory initially produced the Z3 and its variants, but has since been retooled to produce the X3 and X5/6. About 69 percent of the production here is exported; BMW claims to be the largest exporter of vehicles in the U.S.
The automaker's presence in Spartanburg is impossible to miss. The local airport has an X3 on display in its baggage claim area, and the BMWs at the plant wear temporary license plates reading "Proud to call South Carolina home." The impact goes much deeper: A study conducted by the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina found that for every one employee hired at the factory, 4.3 jobs were created in the surrounding area.
We enter the factory through the Zentrum, a large, swooping glass-faced building that doubles as a visitor's center and museum. It's the host to a Z3 (a reminder of the plant's past), the first hydrogen 7 Series, and a number of BMW Isettas, motorcycles, and other examples from BMW's history. The tour ($7 for the public; complementary for Performance Center Delivery participants) walks you right through the production lines, from bare metal to finished product.
The life of an X3 and X5/6 starts at the body shop, where, in a six-hour process, the unibody is constructed and painted. The process is close to 100 percent robotic; employees are responsible for final MIG welding and checking the quality of the automated welds. Robots perform the rest of the work. A lot of robots. They pause, dive, whirl, and twirl with inconceivable speed and precision. It's difficult not to project emotions onto them and give them characters as they wait for a job, then eagerly twist and turn to complete a task. As we walk by, sparks erupt, shooting around us like fireworks. It's also difficult not to whistle the Looney Tunes theme played whenever its characters entered an industrial area (Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse").