Spurred by soaring demand for its X5 sport-utility, BMW will likely expand its only U.S. manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, S.C., BMW's worldwide production chief said Monday.
Since establishing the plant at Spartanburg in 1996 to build the X3 roadster, BMW has seen its US sales grow from 50,000 to 200,000 units a year.
Norbert Reithofer, member of BMW's management board, worldwide production, said a large part of that success was down to the decision to locate a plant in the United States. That demonstrated BMW's commitment to the market and sales improved as a direct result.
"Plants are not unimportant for markets," said Reithofer at the Automotive News Europe Congress in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Monday. "The U.S.A. is very important and we will think to expand at Spartanburg."
BMW also is building new plants in Goodwood, England, and Leipzig, Germany. Asked where else BMW might decide to establish new production facilities, Reithofer said: "We have some ideas. We will probably look toward Asia. We already have a CKD [complete knockdown] plant in Thailand."
Reithofer contrasted the state-of-the-art plant BMW is building in Leipzig with the comparatively low-tech Goodwood facility, where it will make a new generation of Rolls-Royces.
"The new home of Rolls-Royce only has two robots," he said. "High-quality wood and leather work will be carried out by hand, following Rolls-Royce tradition. This just proves there can be no single model for a factory of the future."
In contrast to Goodwood, the sleek Leipzig plant won't be dedicated to the production of a single model.
Reithofer said it was essential that BMW -- and other carmakers -- continue to help struggling suppliers such as Germany's Peguform.
"We have to learn to manage our networks and keep them alive," he said. "The auto industry cannot be allowed to have weak suppliers. We have to think more as OEMs about how to manage medium-size suppliers with 3,000 to 10,000 employees."
A slide Reithofer showed during his presentation appeared to indicate plans for a sport-utility version of the Mini.
In response to a question from the Congress audience about Mini brand extensions, Reithofer said: "We have a diesel coming next, then a convertible. After that, we may have to think about the concepts you mention."
Reithofer isn't worried about the future BMW 1 series competing with the Mini.
"The Mini is front-wheel drive and is in a different league," he said.
BMW is a family owned business and Reithofer was asked if the German carmaker might consider a merger in the future.
"We are not interested in a merger," he said. "But cooperations are always important."