Inside its nearly completed new assembly plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, BMW is preparing to become more efficient.
The $750 million construction project will result in an assembly process that brings BMW closer to its core challenge as an automaker: how to produce vehicles at the lower end of its product portfolio using lean manufacturing while letting customers have a dizzying degree of ordering freedom.
The new plant — adjacent to BMW's X5 and X6 assembly plant — will produce the smaller X3 crossover. As with its previous-generation X3, currently built in Graz, Austria, BMW will let a customer change his mind on an X3 factory order as the vehicle moves from order to delivery.
BMW execs believe that accommodating build-to-order changes helps boost brand loyalty.
But BMW faces the challenge of doing that economically in the increasingly expensive world of automaking.
BMW resolved the question at its 1- and 3-series car factory in Leipzig, Germany, opened in 2005, with a radical assembly process it dubbed fingers. A young engineer proposed the assembly layout as the most efficient way to achieve high-volume production with higher than normal parts complexity.
The South Carolina plant is adopting the Leipzig approach, which places a premium on getting components from suppliers directly to where they are needed on the assembly line.