At the 2017 Detroit Auto Show, BMW board member Ian Robertson tackled head-on some of the most pressing issues in the cylinder building in Munich. First point on the agenda was President-elect Donald Trump and his recent statements on automakers producing cars in Mexico.
In an interview with Germany’s BILD Zeitung, published late Sunday night, Trump said BMW would “waste its time and money” building a plant in Mexico, and that he would impose on the Bavarian automaker a “35% border tax.”
Speaking with reporters here at the North American International Auto Show last week before Trump issued his warning, BMW Board Member Ian Robertson reiterated the company’s commitment to building the plant, but the automaker has not decided whether vehicles produced there will be imported to the U.S.
“We’re building capacity there which will supply cars to many countries in the world,” he says. “Mexico is additional capacity. The beauty of BMW is, we are very flexible in the sense we can change things to suit requirements as and when they develop.”
Production of the new G20 3 Series is scheduled to begin in San Luis Potosi in 2019.
Next point tackled by Robertson was the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina which he calls BMW’s second home which has grown to become the automaker’s largest manufacturing site in the world.
“Overall, we’re very happy to be in the U.S.,” Robertson says.
The Spartanburg operation soon will grow capacity from 400,000 to 450,000 units annually, thanks to a new $1 billion investment. Within the past two years, employment at the plant has ballooned from 8,000 to 8,800 people. Production totaled 411,000 vehicles in 2016.
The plant exports 70 percent of its output, for a value of $10 billion a year.
“We are very comfortable. This is our second home,” Robertson tells journalists. “There’s more investment here than in any other country in the world. From that perspective, I think we will work with the new administration in the same way we’ve worked with administrations before.”
Robertson also talked about the upcoming additions to the X family, starting with the X7 luxury SUV.
“We’ve got more (luxury utes) than anyone else,” he says. “We started this trend with the X5. I think we’re filling every potential niche, and we’re increasing our capacity all around the world on those particular products equally.”
Another hot topic in the last year was the future of diesel engines after the VW emission scandal in 2015. Robertson says that BMW still sees diesel as “a very strong technology in some markets in the world, primarily Europe,” but it continues to remain low in the U.S. – 2.6 percent decrease in 2016, according to WardsAuto data
“We’re seeing customers who enjoy diesel still taking diesel,” Robertson says. “In European markets, wherein some segments it’s 70% to 80% of our overall sales, we’re seeing very little change.”
“For bigger cars, it’s primarily still a diesel market,” he says.
Robertson won’t comment on a 5 Series diesel coming to the U.S., but our sources hint at one model to join the 5 Series lineup in the future.
Autonomous driving is part of the brand’s future. In its Level 2 iteration, cars like the new 5 and 7 Series can drive you for a short period of time.
“I think we are entering a phase now where we will see an even more exciting drive,” he says.
“There are those times when driving is not so much fun – if you’re in heavy traffic. I come up the autobahn from south of Munich every morning, and I drive at 250 km/h (155 mph) on the autobahn. It makes me feel good.
“But the last 10 km (6 miles) are in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s not so much fun anymore. I’d rather do my emails then. So, kicking into some form of autonomous driving is very helpful in that area. When the open road’s there, sheer driving pleasure will always be fun.”[Source: Wards Auto]