BMW factory Spartanburg County

A BMW worker attaches the kidney grill to the 4.5 millionth vehicle built at the automaker's Spartanburg County plant. Provided/BMW Manufacturing

South Carolina's BMW plant remained the nation's top vehicle exporter by dollar value in 2018 with more than $8.4 billion worth of cars shipped to foreign countries, the German automaker said Friday.

It's the fifth consecutive year that BMW's Upstate campus led all other U.S. vehicle exporters, and it happened during a year when tariffs and production changes led to fewer cars being shipped to overseas markets from the Port of Charleston.

"Despite last year’s model changeovers and the ongoing uncertainty regarding trade and tariffs, Plant Spartanburg is still positively contributing to the U.S. balance of trade," Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, said in a statement.

With trade talks between the U.S. and China making progress and several new vehicles either in production or on the way, Flor said he expects an increase this year in both in the number of cars built and exported from the plant.

BMW exported 234,689 South Carolina-made vehicles in 2018 — 13.8 percent fewer than in the previous year. While most of those cars are sent from the Port of Charleston, BMW increasingly used other Southeast ports in 2018. Charleston accounted for 80.6 percent of BMW exports last year — down from 87 percent in 2017.

BMW exports from Port of Charleston

South Carolina-made BMW vehicles are loaded onto ships for export at the Port of Charleston. The German automaker remained the top U.S. exporter of vehicles by dollar value in 2018. Provided/BMW Manufacturing

"BMW is a significant port user whose operations are a tremendous asset to the port and the state of South Carolina," said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority. "As customers of both Inland Port Greer and the Port of Charleston, BMW’s continued expansion has been a driver of our strong import and export volumes."

While the dollar value of BMW exports fell 4.1 percent last year, the S.C. -made SUVs — with list prices ranging between $42,000 and $75,000 — held onto the top spot the automaker has kept since 2014, when it exported $9.2 billion worth of cars.

BMW accounted for nearly one-fourth of South Carolina's record $34.6 billion in exports last year. Finished vehicles were state's the top export commodity in 2018, followed by airplanes including those built at Boeing Co.'s North Charleston campus. 

"The remarkable partnerships between BMW and South Carolina continues to thrive, and this is evident by the fact that oru state remains the nation's leader in the xport sales of completed passenger vehicles," said Bobby Hitt, secretary of the state's Commerce Department and former executiev with at the automaker's Greer plant.

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BMW is in the midst of a $600 million investment at the Upstate factory to handle future X-model SUV manufacturing. All told, the automaker has invested $10 billion in the plant, BMW's largest worldwide.

The Spartanburg County campus, which is marking 25 years of production this year, produces more than 1,400 vehicles a day.

In 2018, the plant turned out 356,749 vehicles — a 3.9 percent drop the previous year.

The factory has a production capacity of 450,000 vehicles and employs more than 11,000 workers.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_