The head of BMW's U.S. assembly plant has suddenly retired at age 57.
Al Kinzer, president of BMW Manufacturing Corp., left his job last week.
The new president of the expanding operation is Norbert Reithofer. He was named COO at the Spartanburg County, S.C., company last fall.
The departure comes as Kinzer was preparing to help BMW AG open two new plants: one in Britain and one in Brazil.
Kinzer is one of the few senior BMW executives who have managed a plant startup.
Kinzer oversaw creation of BMW Manufacturing Corp. beginning in 1992. It was BMW's first manufacturing plant outside Germany. That was one of a long string of startups for Kinzer.
Kinzer became the Japanese transplant industry's first U.S. manager in 1978, when he went to work for an unstaffed Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. in Marysville, Ohio.
Kinzer, a onetime part-time mayor, played key roles in launching Honda's original motorcycle plant in Marysville. He was also a central player at Honda's first U.S. auto plant in 1982; its East Liberty, Ohio, Civic plant in 1989; and its Anna, Ohio, engine plant.
He was drafted to BMW in 1992. Kinzer assembled a staff from Honda and other Japanese automakers, as well as the Big 3 and BMW managers from Germany. He also pulled heavily from Japanese lean-manufacturing philosophies to organize the plant and train its inexperienced South Carolina work force.
Last year, Kinzer was tapped to help BMW globalize further. BMW is building a new assembly plant in Britain for Rover Group, which BMW acquired in 1995. Through Rover, BMW also is building an engine plant in Curitiba, Brazil, in a joint venture with Chrysler Corp.
But Kinzer recently confided to colleagues that he felt he had had enough of startup projects - especially if they meant constant travel.
He will remain on the South Carolina automaker's board of directors. A statement last week said that he now intends to work in manufacturing consulting with suppliers. He could not be reached for comment.
Reithofer, 41, came to South Carolina last October to handle the day-to-day operations while Kinzer traveled. Reithofer previously was managing director of BMW's South Africa plant, a former 'kit factory' that is now being expanded as a full manufacturing plant.