BMW breaks ground on new plant in Mexico

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BMW’s Spartanburg County plant will play a key role in helping to establish the Germany-based automaker’s second plant in North America.

BMW Group and Mexican officials broke ground Thursday at the site of the company’s new $1 billion manufacturing plant in San Luis Potosí about 250 miles north of its national headquarters in Mexico City.

The plant, which is anticipated to begin production in 2019, will produce BMW’s popular 3 Series sedan, create jobs for 1,500 people and manufacture about 150,000 vehicles per year.

Oliver Zipse, BMW Group’s board of management member for production, said the plant in Mexico will not compete with, but complement the Spartanburg plant, meaning it will not pull jobs away from the Upstate in favor of cheaper labor in Mexico.

And some employees of the Mexico plant will be trained in Spartanburg during the next three years.

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“The X models produced in Spartanburg are in very high demand,” Zipse said. “The [types of vehicles] that will be made in Mexico are completely different, but are also in high demand, especially in the U.S. I would be very relaxed about [the possibility of American jobs going to Mexico].”

Hermann Bohrer, head of the BMW plant San Luis Potosí, said many of the technologies and production processes that will be employed at his facility are already being put into practice in Spartanburg.

“Munich is far away,” Bohrer said. “It’s only logical that we would rely on the next closest plant, which is in Spartanburg.”

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Like its North American big brother, the plant in Mexico will be a full assembly plant with a paint shop and body shop.

The automaker said the plant will be state-of-the-art, powered by renewable energy from solar and wind power, and consuming the least amount of water per vehicle in its production network.

It will boast the first paint shop with zero process wastewater, and it will recycle and reuse sanitary wastewater, the company said.

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The plant will have rail access and its vehicles will be shipped worldwide. BMW is exploring shipping options via ports on both the east and west coasts of Mexico.

“The direct impact on our country will be huge,” said Juan Manuel Carreras-López, governor of San Luis Potosí.

After the ceremony, BMW gave journalists a tour of a training facility several miles from the plant where it has already begun apprenticing 25 people, primarily in mechatronics.

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BMW hopes to have 150 employees hired for the plant by September and 90 apprentices by the end of the year.

“At BMW Group, we’re convinced the complete training process … is one of the reasons for our success,” said Milagros Caiña-Andree, board of management member for BMW’s human resources. “People make the difference and are the biggest asset to our company.”

The company said about 500 of the plant’s 1,500 employees will receive their training in Munich. The rest will be trained in Spartanburg.

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In Mexico, BMW hit a new sales record in 2015, selling 17,475 vehicles, a more than 17 percent increase compared with 2014.

Glenn Schmidt, head of government and external affairs for BMW’s Americas region, said the company plans to fully engage with and give back to the community surrounding its plant in Mexico.

He said the company has a few existing suppliers near the San Luis Potosí plant and hopes to attract more to the area.

“A whole process starts when BMW decides to build a plant,” Schmidt said. “Spartanburg is a role model for this plant in Mexico. Both are a part of a larger strategy for the NAFTA region … There is tremendous potential here.”

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