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For decades, BMW famously only assembled its cars in Germany. But the automaker has expanded considerably. Today, BMW has plants in 15 countries, including the factory in Mexico where it makes its 3 Series sedans for the U.S. market. But once upon a time, BMW built 3 Series sedans for the U.S. market in the U.S.

The first BMW factory outside of Germany wasn’t in Mexico. It was in Greer, South Carolina. BMW has been selling cars in the U.S. since 1956. So it makes sense that in 1992, the automaker began work on a plant in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. The plant opened in 1994. It was originally the only plant in the world building the Z3 roadster, but also manufactured some 318i sedans from the 3 series’ “E36” generation.

Factory worker stands under the open hood of a 3 Series sedan in BMW's Mexico plant.
BMW 3 Series assembly in Mexico | BMW

By the E46 generation of the 3 Series–which debuted in the 1999 mode year–BMW stopped build any 3 Series in South Carolina. BMW Spartanburg is still plugging along, building several different BMW crossovers for U.S., and the rest of the world. That’s the X3, X4, X5, X6, and X7. But by 1994, some BMW 3 Series were also assembled in Mexico–for an interesting reason.

In 1994, BMW and some Mexican investors established a joint venture to build and sell cars in Mexico. At first, the subsidiary of BMW assembled Mexican-market 3 Series cars from kits built by BMW plants. But in 1996, Mexican law changed and the company needed to source 50% of the parts from inside the country. So BMW Mexico built a factory. In 2003, this joint venture ended assembly of 3 Series cars, 5 Series cars, and motorcycles in Mexico. But that’s not the end of the saga.

In 2012, BMW announced it would be building another plant in Mexico. The San Luis Potosi plant opened in 2019. In 2020, it announced that it would be building 3 Series sedans for multiple countries in Mexico. In 2020, some dealerships told customers “all” future 3 Series cars sold in the U.S. will hail from Mexico. In 2020, the BMW Blog website specified that “touring” and “M3” models sold in the U.S. are still built in Germany.

Factory worker preps a 3 Series sedan for paint in a booth at BMW's Mexico plant
BMW 3 Series assembly in Mexico | BMW

All other 3 Series models sold in the U.S. are reportedly built in Mexico. In addition, 2 Series coupes–including the M2–are exclusively built in Mexico. Finally, there are rumors that BMW is tooling up its Mexico plant for future EV or battery production.

Want to know where your car was assembled? It’s as easy as checking your VIN. If the number starts with 1,4, or 5, your vehicle was assembled in the U.S. If it starts in a “W,” your car was assembled in Germany. And if it begins with “3” your car comes from Mexico.

Next, read about the familiar U.S. cars built in China, or learn how American-made your car is in the video below: