BMW built a record 411,620 vehicles at its South Carolina campus last year as the luxury German brand overcame global trade concerns to eclipse a previous mark set in 2016.
The automaker manufactures four of the 10 best-selling cars imported to China, including the top-selling X5 sport-utility vehicle, and President Donald Trump's trade war with that country had the Spartanburg County automaker heading into 2019 with serious concerns over U.S. production and profits.
The company responded by shifting some production of its entry-level X3 SUV to China and exporting more partially-made vehicles to finishing plants in southeast Asia to avoid higher tariffs. And as the year progressed, the trade climate thawed, putting the Upstate plant back on sound footing.
"The past three years have been among the most challenging in the history of Plant Spartanburg," said Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing.
In addition to the trade issues, BMW has balanced expansions and the introduction of new models, including hybrids, with an increase in production. For example, a third-generation X6 began production during the second half of 2019.
"Our plant’s model portfolio is fresh and popular around the world," Flor said.
Last year's record production figure edges the 411,171 vehicles built at the sprawling Upstate campus in 2016. This is the third time the plant has topped 400,000 vehicles in a year, also accomplishing the feat in 2015. The Greer site also maintains its title as the largest BMW producer in the automaker's network.
BMW has built more than 4.8 million cars and invested more than $10.6 billion at the Upstate campus since its opening in 1994. The site, which employs 11,000 workers, produces more than 1,500 vehicles a day and has an annual capacity of 450,000 vehicles.
BMW also is one of the Port of Charleston's top customers, exporting about 70 percent of the cars made in the Upstate to more than 125 markets worldwide.
The record 2019 production likely will help BMW retain its title as the biggest U.S. automotive exporter. BMW exported $8.4 billion worth of cars built in the Upstate in 2018 for its fifth consecutive year atop the list. Last year's export values have not been released.
The automaker said it sold 159,277 Upstate-built cars in the U.S. last year, leaving 252,343 vehicles exported to foreign countries. Top sellers in the U.S. were the X3 and X5.
BMW is a key part of South Carolina’s $27 billion-a-year automotive industry that also includes Volvo Cars and Mercedes-Benz Vans plants in the Charleston region.