BMW milestone: Exports from Greer top 1 million

Most of the BMW vehicles made in the Upstate of South Carolina for export are shipped through the Union Pier Terminal in Charleston.

BMW has marked another maritime milestone.

More than 15 years after opening its only U.S. plant in the South Carolina Upstate, BMW Manufacturing announced Wednesday that it has now exported more than 1 million vehicles produced at its Greer factory.

Company officials said 85 percent of those automobiles were transported by ship to overseas car dealers through the Port of Charleston.

That news comes as the State Ports Authority looks toward relocating BMW's operations from the Union Pier Terminal as part of a redevelopment plan for that stretch of the peninsula's waterfront.

Port and city leaders unveiled a preliminary proposal for the SPA's cruise-ship facility and the rest of Union Pier in February. At that time, SPA Chief Executive Jim Newsome said the first order of business would be to find a new home for BMW that also could attract business from other shippers of automobiles.

BMW officials visited the port in March and plan a second site visit this month, according to SPA spokesman Byron Miller.

Miller said the SPA and the company still are working toward a solution. SPA officials previously discussed shifting the focus of the agency's North Charleston Terminal away from containerized cargo to make room for expanded automobile operations. Miller said that site remains one of several alternatives.

Veterans Terminal on the former Navy base also has been mentioned as a possibility.

With no room to grow, Union Pier is not a long-term option for BMW, the port has said.

Nearly two years ago the luxury carmaker began shifting its imports away from Charleston when it moved a portion of that business to Brunswick, Ga. Then, in December, the Port of Baltimore announced that it would handle 50,000 BMW imports annually, cars that previously came through Charleston.

After moving about 56,000 imported BMWs in the most recent fiscal year, Union Pier will handle only about 10,000 imports now, according to officials with the carmaker.

This year, BMW business communications manager Jan Ehlen attributed the shift to streamlining logistics. He also said at the time that while Charleston is losing its role on the import side, the local port will ship out at least 100,000 Upstate-made cars this year.

The latest export milestone comes more than four years after the 1 millionth BMW, including imported cars, crossed Union Pier.

"The Port of Charleston continues to efficiently serve our needs to meet ever-changing market demands and ... will continue to be a key port for BMW in the future," Josef Kerscher, president of BMW Manufacturing, said in a statement Wednesday.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or abird@postandcourier.com.