Under the plan, FedEx will airlift a shipment of European parts daily. The parts are those that often are among the most volatile in the customer-ordering system: interior trim pieces, optional equipment, color-related items and electronics, for example.
FedEx lands the BMW-bound 727 at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.
That arrangement is different from FedEx's normal logistics. Most of the company's planes fly in and out of Memphis, where freight is sorted and trucked to its final destination. By landing the goods at Greenville-Spartanburg, the supplier is giving BMW virtually door-to-door air shipment.
In 1992, BMW put its U.S. factory site on the edge of the airport, anticipating some future use for inbound supplies. Through the FedEx arrangement, cargo now passes directly off airport property through a gate and onto BMW's loading docks without encountering traffic.
In logistics parlance, such shipments are "time-definite materials," says Mike Heringshaw, FedEx vice president and general manager of North American supply-chain services.
Heringshaw predicts a growing demand for third-party logistics suppliers like his company.
"Auto industry supply-chain networks are very complicated, and they are not arranged in an ideal model for efficient transportation," he says.
Those networks probably will get more complex in the future, he predicts. Every time Honda, Toyota and Nissan open a factory here, he reasons, they are complicating their logistics by requiring parts to go to more than one destination.
Prouty also expects more opportunity for outsourced logistics.
"You're not going to win the automotive race by moving your parts around faster," Prouty says. "There are other people who know more about logistics than you do. It probably makes more sense to outsource the whole thing to them."
Or even outsource it to a combination of suppliers. BMW also signed a comprehensive contract last year with TNT Logistics North America Inc., the Jacksonville, Fla., transportation management company. Stoeger refers to TNT as a strategic partner to BMW in Spartanburg, handling the bulk of the automaker's North American parts movement.
TNT managers use BMW's production schedule to devise suppliers' delivery schedules, make the freight arrangements, route trucks, track the shipments, warehouse parts that are not needed lineside and bring the rest into the plant.
"Transportation and warehousing should not be the expertise of a car manufacturer," Stoeger says. "This allows someone else to focus on material handling while we focus on manufacturing."