The automotive industry is in a state of flux as major players try to forecast changing consumer demand for new types of vehicles, new ownership practices, and new government regulations. Given the risks involved to traditional manufacturers during this period of uncertainty, BMW is planning ahead to make sure it can accommodate the broadest spectrum of future products.
The company announced that its Spartanburg, South Carolina plant will be capable of manufacturing as many different types of engines as it can, including gasoline engines, electric motors, and hybrid drives all from the assembly line. Basically, BMW is laying out a plan and the corresponding assembly plant that will ensure they can easily tailor production to match consumer demand. This, the company says, will let the German auto giant not have plants idling during a changeover. The current model that might have all three powertrain option is the BMW X3 crossover with the first electric X3 expected by 2020.
Why is this such a big deal when it seems like common sense to an outside observer? Well, it’s incredibly difficult to modify heavy machinery to accommodate a product as large and complex as a vehicle. This has never been done before, and there are significant logistical hurdles that BMW will overcome to supply, build, and install three different powertrains at one plant at the same time. As an example, BMW notes that an electric battery weighs between 900 to 2,000 pounds and that trying to ship these monsters is expensive. Having the capacity to build them on site, or close by, will save a tremendous amount of money. But that requires building a new production facility. Then there needs to be a new production line in the body shop to assemble the new floor boards that fit the battery. And that’s just the start.
BMW has an ambitious plan that will require some hefty investments, but the company believes that increased flexibility and reduced downtime is the first step to guiding the German automaker through a very tumultuous future ahead for the auto industry.