However, as far back as 2015, we heard that BMW has been planning to discontinue production of the popular sedan in favour of something with a bit more ground clearance. As part of an estimated R6-billion local investment, BMW will soon be producing its X3 models locally, with 3-series production moving to a new plant in Mexico.
A piece of history
The local production of BMW models wasn’t a BMW project initially; a company called Praetor Monteerders started producing vehicles in 1968 at its factory in Rosslyn. It was only in 1970 when BMW bought a share in the company that the German firm got more involved.
By 1975, BMW had acquired full shareholding in Praetor Monteerders, thus forming BMW Group South Africa (Pty) (Ltd), which coincidentally was also the first BMW manufacturing facility outside Germany. Initially, the vehicles arrived in CKD (Completely Knocked Down) form, meaning they were supplied in a kit format and merely assembled for the local market.
In the more modern era though, the plant has grown to be recognised as one of the best BMW production facilities in the world, with over 60 000 3-series models being produced annually in left and right-hand configurations. The other impressive aspect of the plant has been its emphasis on local materials, as 80% of the parts are sourced from 47 local suppliers, with just 20% being fully imported. This has amounted to the creation of around 36 000 jobs when the entire supplier network is taken into consideration.
With the large amount of capital being invested into the facility despite growing economic uncertainty, BMW has certainly shown that it is committed to South Africa in the long term. The estimated R6-billion investment is divided with around R3-billion going towards a new state-of-the-art facility adjacent Plant Rosslyn for the construction of a new bodyshop, which will be in operation with the start of X3 production.
The bodyshop is also the highest single investment item in the upgrading of the plant, and is almost 50% larger than the current facility. Bridge-building methods were used to erect a new, higher roof for the assembly line. This was done to accommodate construction of the X3 assembly facility, while production of the current 3-series continued below. A new combined body store has been constructed that can house up to 132 painted or unpainted bodies.
A new training centre is currently under construction too, with 29 lecture rooms that includes a virtual room which provides entertaining and engaging material. The additional R3-billion or so is being allotted to suppliers, launch costs and training programmes. At the time of the investment’s announcement, it was also the highest in the South African automotive industry’s history.
When will SA produce X3?
Production of the next generation X3 will start in the course of 2018, with BMW stating that the upgrades made to the production facility will allow the plant a maximum capacity of 71 000 units per annum.