South Charlotte

Hot X6 is driving Greer's BMW plant forward

The X6 is the newest vehicle to be built on BMW's 1,100-acre, tree-covered manufacturing site in Spartanburg County.

The X6 is part of a $750 million investment in the Greer plant that cranks out 660 cars daily, 150 of them X6s.

The crossover – part coupe, part SUV – represents the future of the Greer plant as BMW phases out the Z4, a two-seat roadster, at the end of the year.

Production of the Z4 will shift to Germany, the automaker's home. BMW has made roadsters at the 14-year-old Greer plant since 1996.

In a few years, the facility will be known locally as the “X” plant, building four-wheel-drive vehicles. The X6 is being built alongside the X5 midsize SUV and will be joined next decade by the X3 mini-SUV.

BMW, which in March announced a $750 million expansion program, expects to boost production from 165,000 vehicles a year to 240,000 by 2012.

The Greer plant also will be shipping more cars overseas, said Robert Hitt III, spokesman for BMW's Palmetto State operation. Exports from BMW's S.C. operation are expected to climb to about 65 percent from 60 percent.

Two of three workers in the plant, Hitt noted, are building cars that will be sold overseas. The plant employs about 5,400 and plans to add 500 more by 2012.

Right now, the X6 is the hot story.

The crossover hit the showrooms in April to mixed reviews. The X6's size – nearly 5,000 pounds – and design have prompted critics to call it a “whale” and a knockoff of the lowly regarded Pontiac Aztek.

But as far as the folks who run the automaker's Upstate plant are concerned, the X6 is a hit.

“We're sold out,” Hitt said. “There's a market out there of people who want something different, not one size fits all.”

Dealers in the state say they can't keep the new model on the lot even with a price tag of $54,000 to $68,000.

As far as fuel economy goes, the government rating for the X6 is 13-15 miles per gallon in the city and 18-20 mpg on the highway.

But as the most expensive model made in Greer, $4-a-gallon gasoline probably isn't an issue for an X6 buyer.

“Gas is going to go up and down,” said Mark Santilli, business development manager at Imports of Florence. “Not all of America is ready to transition into the Prius,” Toyota's hybrid compact car.

Jason Branham, general manager of BMW Columbia, said the dealership has sold seven X6s this year – every one that BMW has shipped to the Two Notch Road location.

Buyers range from loyal BMW owners to those ready to trade high-end cars such as a Mercedes Benz or Lexus, Branham added.

“There's nothing else engineered like it,” he said. “(BMW) will sell everything they have.”

At Rick Hendrick Imports in Charleston, Bill Gironda said he sold out of X6s “through almost the end of the year.”

“The response to this vehicle has been fantastic,” said Gironda, Hendrick general manager. “It's a new vehicle and a little bit different niche.”

Buyers, he said, are looking for a crossover that offers the utility of an SUV and the performance of a sports sedan.

The X6 seats four and is powered by either a 3-liter, 300-horsepower in-line six-cylinder engine or a 4.4-liter, 400-horsepower V-8.

Bobby Bishop, general manager at Century BMW in Greenville, said interest is high there because people take pride in owning a locally built car. The dealership has sold about 15 X6s, and Bishop said he has had to buy cars from other dealers to meet demand.

“People notice that it's a bigger car with a lot of horsepower,” Bishop said. “Most (buyers) are professionals and business people who want something that looks a little bit different.”