Autos

BMW’s X7 SUV Means Big Money for South Carolina

There’s been a story circulating online for some time now about a professor and his big jar full of objects. In front of his students, the professor places the objects of varying sizes — golf balls, marbles, sand, and two cups of beer — into the jar, each time asking his pupils if the jar was then full. After the golf balls went in, the students believed it was full. Then in went the marbles, filling the gaps between the golf balls. Again, the students said that the jar was full.

He then poured in the sand, which naturally filled in the space around the marbles and the golf balls — the students, having not caught on by this point, again noted that the jar was full. He then poured the two cups of beer in, which were immediately absorbed by the sand. The objects represent factors of life in varying degrees of importance based on the size of the object. Golf balls represent health and family, the marbles are illustrative of a house, a car, et cetera. The sand is the “small stuff.” And the beer? “It means that no matter how full your life is, there is always room for a beer with a friend,” he says.

It’s an amusing story and worth a read. And though there is likely no intentional correlation, it appears that BMW AG has been using it for its playbook. BMW’s lineup is much like the jar: It starts with a few solid models — the 3 Series, 5 Series, and X5 SUV — those are the golf balls. The X3, the X1, and the 7 Series — those are the marbles. The sand is made up of the X6, the 6 Series Gran Coupe, and so on. BMW has been consistently filling every gap in its lineup much like the sand and beer and the marbles filled up the jar.

However, BMW is still expanding its increasing slate of offerings, with plans for a range-topping X7 SUV on the table. With the company’s affinity for chasing every possible vehicle niche, that doesn’t come as a surprise, but arguably the most important part — at least to us — is that the X7 will be built at BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and the company is investing heavily into expansions in order to build it.

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Sources indicated to Reuters last week that BMW’s investments in its U.S. facility will be in the neighborhood of several hundred million dollars. They added that Spartanburg’s output would be increased to 400,000 vehicles, about a third more than its current levels of around 300,000. The plant already employs about 7,000 workers. None of this has been confirmed by BMW, however, though it said to a expect a “significant economic and product announcement” on March 28.

BMW Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer has said plans to build an X7 were dropped because BMW thought large sport utility vehicles were at odds with the carmaker’s aim to cut its overall emission footprint, Reuters reports.

However, ”the U.S. will stay a market with great potential for us. This is why we are evaluating the possibility of increasing capacity in the U.S.,” he was quoted as saying last week. No doubt about it, Americans still love their large SUVs — and with new technologies, they’re more efficient than ever before. It’s also likely that the X7, which is expected to have three rows of seats, wouldn’t be a very high-volume vehicle, therefore limiting its impact on BMW’s fleet average.

Harold Kruger, BMW’s global production chief, declined to offer details of the plans for Spartanburg to Reuters, though he pointed out that BMW has put more than $900 million into the facility between 2012 and 2014 to make its X4 small SUV. The plant is the global nerve center for BMW’s utility vehicle operations, he said.

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BMW’s lack of a three-row SUV has reportedly turned customers from the brand in favor of Mercedes-Benz’s large GL Class SUV. Spartanburg produces the X3, X4, and X5 models, but none offer third-row capabilities — a near-must for people moving quantities of children on a regular basis.

In order to accommodate the X7, BMW plans to add a body shop to the plant with a collection of conveyors and robots that weld sheet-metal parts together to create a car’s underbody, The Wall Street Journal reports. The expansion will take up about 675,000 square feet, according to filings with the region’s development office.