BMW's Greer plant leads U.S. in car exports, mostly through Charleston

The Post and Courier by David Wren

The BMW manufacturing plant South Carolina maintained its position as the nation's leading exporter of vehicles, sending $9.53 billion worth of cars and SUVs to foreign countries in 2016 - most of them through the Port of Charleston.

The German automaker released the year-end figures Wednesday.

"We had a record-breaking production and export year in 2016, and these new export figures reinforce BMW’s commitment to South Carolina and the United States," Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, said in a statement.

"Our vehicles are in high demand," Flor said. "Customers from 140 countries around the world are eagerly awaiting our vehicles. We build our product with precision and pride every day."

The 287,700 BMWs exported last year from the Upstate plant had the highest value of any automotive export, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. About 86 percent of those vehicles were exported from Charleston, the company said, with the rest leaving from ports in Georgia and Florida.

"There’s no overstating the value BMW has brought to South Carolina since opening its doors in Spartanburg County over 20 ago,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. "The fact that the same facility that represented such a commitment to our state is now the leading automotive exporter in the country is something that all South Carolinians should be proud of."

BMW started building vehicles in the United States in 1994 and has produced more than 3.7 million exports since that time. Last year, the automaker built a record 411,171 vehicles, making the Greer plant BMW's largest producer globally.

BMW has invested more than $7.8 billion in its Greer plant and construction is continuing as the company prepares to add a fifth model - the all new BMW X7 - to its vehicle line-up. The second phase of a new body shop continues with the installation of robots and special tooling in the 1.2 million-square-foot facility. An additional 200,000 square feet is being added to the X5/X6 assembly site, where the X7 also will be built.

The company caught some heat last month, when President Donald Trump criticized BMW and two other German carmakers for not building more vehicles they sell in the U.S. market within the United States. He also said he would seek to place a 35 percent tax on automobiles they import.