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BMW is leading the way in green carmaking

Spartanburg, in the lush green countryside of South Carolina, will, once its latest expansion is completed, be BMW’s largest plant anywhere in the world.
BMW’s environment-friendly factory in Spartanburg. Courtesy BMW
BMW’s environment-friendly factory in Spartanburg. Courtesy BMW

One billion dollars. You’re probably imagining Mike Myers as the dastardly Dr Evil when you read those three words, but rather than the ransom demanded by Austin Powers’ nemesis to prevent world destruction at the hands of a cat-stroking despot, it’s actually the amount BMW recently invested in the American factory where it builds its incredibly successful X models.

Spartanburg, in the lush green countryside of South Carolina, will, once its latest expansion is completed, be BMW’s largest plant anywhere in the world, which goes to show how popular the United States has become as a centre for car manufacturing and as a base for worldwide exports with companies based in other countries. Slowly but surely, the idea that BMW is a German outfit is being eroded, but, thankfully, not at the expense of its reputation for quality.

BMW has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to SUVs and crossovers, practically inventing new market segments with its X cars, which now number 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. An X2 is said to be mere months away and BMW has now confirmed the introduction of the X7, which will be too large for most European markets – but we’ll no doubt see it on sale here. Each of those models is either already being built in Spartanburg or soon will be.

Currently, it employs 8,000 of what BMW refers to as “associates” (but anyone else would refer to as “staff”), and that number will increase by 10 per cent in 2016, once that $1bn (Dh3.67 billion) has been spent. Annual production capacity is pegged at the moment to 300,000, but that will increase by 50 per cent to 450,000 within the next two years. The plant exports 70 per cent of its output to more than 140 markets around the world, and quite frankly it’s one of the most important parts of BMW’s seemingly never-ending success story.

Has all this expansion, though, come at the expense of BMW’s carefully manicured green credentials? We’ve already visited its environmentally friendly factories in Leipzig, Germany, and Moses Lake in the US, which produce the raw materials and the finished articles that make up the company’s i3 and i8 models. BMW’s zeal when it comes to reducing its impact on the planet is admirable. But does that all come undone when you look at the facilities that produce arguably the company’s biggest ­polluters?

Apparently not. BMW says that its Spartanburg plant is “a benchmark in environmentally friendly, resource-efficient and sustainable production”. It points to the fact that, since its opening, the American facility has steadily reduced its environmental impact. “Since 2006, energy consumption has been cut by 49.9 per cent and water consumption has been more than halved, while landfill waste has been reduced by an impressive 88 per cent. Last year alone, 94 per cent of production waste at the plant was recycled. About 50 per cent of the total energy used at the Spartanburg plant is generated by methane from a local landfill.”

That’s impressive stuff, you have to admit, and it could possibly go some way in explaining the reduction in overall hatred for the X models shown by the public over the past few years. There was a time, not long ago, when the X5 and X6 were seen as public enemy number one by the green brigade. Yet that attitude has gradually ebbed away, and BMW is reaping the benefits with constantly increasing sales figures. Even the notoriously stringent US Environmental Protection Agency has placed the Spartanburg factory fourth in its top 30 list of producers using renewable energy – this is the sort of thing more car companies should be aiming for.

So is BMW a German company any longer? Not really, no. Rather, it is a global manufacturer that happens to have its headquarters in Munich. For the people of South Carolina, it’s as American as McDonald’s Golden Arches or the Stars and Stripes.

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Published: October 23, 2014 04:00 AM


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