The majestic Bayerische Motoren Werke company, known around the world simply as BMW, emerged from a small aircraft company in the early 1900s. A popular theory for the blue and white circular logo holds that it represents a white propeller cutting through a blue sky. As a way to honor the company’s ancestry as well as the colors of the Bavarian flag, the logo is one of the most recognized in the world. Headquartered in Munich, the company directs the production of the highest quality of luxury automobiles.
Tracing Early History
Following a restructuring of aircraft manufacturing company Rapp Motoren Werke in 1917, BMW became an established business entity. The Versailles Armistice Treaty prevented the company from manufacturing airplane engines, and 11 years passed before BMW produced its first automobile. Named Dixi, the car was patterned after a model licensed by England’s Austin Motor Company.
Venturing into Mass Production
An emphasis on production of motorcycles occupied the company’s manufacturing efforts after World War I. Directing resources to manufacturing aircraft engines for German rearmament and the Luftwaffe in World War II created financial problems for the company in the ensuing years. By 1959, shareholders of the struggling automotive division had to confront a difficult decision for the company’s future. Choosing to attempt to become profitable as former aircraft manufacturers Messerschmitt and Heinkel had done, the company decided against liquidation.
With a plan to put a modified version of its motorcycle engine in tiny cars, BMW bought manufacturing rights to the Iso’s Isetta, a popular Italian vehicle. Under the agreement, BMW sold more of the single-cylinder car worldwide than any other auto manufacturer. Only 7.5 feet in length and 4.5 feet wide, the car was shaped like an egg and had bubble-like windows.
Fuel consumption for the minicar ranged from 50 to 70 miles per gallon. The company’s decision to mass produce the car succeeded in replenishing its finances, validating the shareholders' initiative to invest in manufacturing automobiles. The company’s shares are publicly traded, but the Quandt family holds the controlling majority of shares at about 46.7 percent.
BMW made acquisitions that expanded the company’s capabilities and increased its profitability. Absorbing the Hans Glas Company in 1966 gave BMW the rights to a timing belt that aided in the production of the overhead camshaft.
Acquisitions in the 1990s brought large stakes in Designworks USA and in the British Rover Group. Familiar brands in the purchase included the Land Rover and the MG as well as the defunct Austin and Morris. Choosing to divest unprofitable holdings led the company to sell Rover and MG as well as the Land Rover. BMW launched the new MINI in 2001.
Finding BMW Facilities in the USA
The BMW Group established BMW of North America, LLC (BMW NA) in 1975 as an importer of its luxury line of vehicles. In 1980, BMW NA assumed responsibilities for importing and distributing motorcycles. Nearly 20 years later, it started distributing light trucks from locations in New Jersey. Woodcliff Lake is home to its Eastern Regional Headquarters and Technical Training Center. The company’s Vehicle Preparation Center is in Port Jersey, and the Regional Distribution Center is in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
South Carolina has provided a home to a BMW manufacturing plant since 1994, and about 50 facilities in the state contribute to the finished product. Approximately 16,000 workers supply the plant with parts and services to support the company’s 7,000 employees. Known as BMW Manufacturing, the plant produces the X3 and the X4 Sports Activity Coupe.
The facility also produces the X5 Sports Activity Vehicle and the X5 M. The X6 Sports Activity Coupes and the X6 M Sports Activity Vehicles come from the plant. BMW’s on-going investments in the Spartanburg plant make it the company’s largest factory in the world. Vehicles manufactured in the plant ship to 140 countries.
Becoming a Global Company
BMW has offices or facilities in 13 countries outside of Germany. The Rosslyn plant in South Africa started a low-volume operation in 1973 and became a full manufacturing facility in the mid-1990s. In addition to expansions at the South Carolina plant and transformations at the Rosslyn plant to convert it to full capacity, BMW has a full manufacturing capability in China, a newly operational plant in Brazil and plans for one in Mexico. The company has production and assembly plants (CKD) in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. A manufacturing partnership with a Russian company provides a production facility. BMW has 30 production capabilities in 14 countries, including operations in Germany, the UK and Austria.