Success has many fathers, the saying goes, but Helmut Panke is undeniably a father to the BMW Manufacturing Corp. factory outside Spartanburg, S.C.
Panke is the BMW AG board member responsible for finance. He helped launch the South Carolina plant seven years ago, as the first CEO of BMW (US) Holding Corp. Panke, 53, has been a board member since 1996. Staff Reporter Jim Henry interviewed him at an X5 press introduction in Atlanta. Here are edited excerpts:
Now that BMW is becoming a more global company, what are the long-term lessons learned from the South Carolina experience?
We did the right thing in putting the focus on obtaining the same quality we get from our German plants. We have had no complaints - in contrast to what some other manufacturer has experienced. (The rival Mercedes M class scored poorly on customer surveys.)
The other lesson was to keep on training, to continuously reinvest in associate (worker) training. We started out on the 3 series or Roadster, which is not as complex, until the associates were experienced. If we really want to compete on a global level, they have to be able to build a complex model.
How many X5s can you build?
Total capacity is about 100,000 annually, Z3 and X5 combined. The rule of thumb is about 50,000 X5s and 50,000 Z3s. It could go 60-40, or 40-60, but it couldn't go up to 100,000 of either one. If demand turns out to be permanently above 50,000, then we will invest in more capacity.
Do you plan to add more models at Spartanburg?
There is no plan at this time to add anything to Spartanburg. Technically, it would not take a lot of changes. At this point it is a hypothetical, theoretical possibility. But there is no grand plan that says, 'Paragraph 5B, subalternative B.'
We have over 1,000 acres in Spartanburg. We learned our lesson at our engine plant in Steyr, Austria, in the early 1980s. We just bought what was necessary at the time. Then, when it's time to expand, you go to your friends and neighbors to see who is interested in selling, and you find that the price has gone up.
When we decided to double the capacity for the X5, we stated publicly that this is not the last time we will put something in Spartanburg.