Miles Today: 297.6
Total Miles: 2912.3
Days on the Road: 89
Our next road trip is going to be in one of these.
Cost per hour of production time at BMW: $3,600
Waiting list to be an employee: 3-4 years
Number of cars produced per day: 640
They confiscated our camera for the 45-minute plant tour, otherwise we'd have some behind the scenes shots of robots gone wild and the end-of-production-line "associates" secretly joyriding in the finished Z4s. And maybe a shot or two of the room where they...no, on second thought I better not even mention that here. Too risky.
From the looks of it, if you're into working at a plant, BMW's factory outside of Spartanburg, SC, is one of the swankier places to get a repetitive stress injury. You get to hobnob with lots of cool, orange robots (and be outnumbered by them by about 9 to 1 if you're on the Z4 line) and get in on the company's annual leasing program. Get this: If you want to drive a new BMW every year, just make the lease payment and the company picks up the insurance and registration. That would explain the parking lot full of shiny little German roadsters we marveled at on the way in.
The tour's a pretty ingenious way to hook potential buyers -- the plant reflects America's best rendition of German precision and perfection. All the workers are neatly color-coded and tucked, the plant is sterile and expansive and the production line appears to move with the grace and reliability of a stream flowing downhill. It's all pretty impressive, not to mention how sweet the new cars look coming out of the blocks. A little tip for future buyers: If you pick up your new car at the plant, they let you test the automatic traction control system and anti-lock brakes on their specially slicked road test surface, plus you get a private tour and free lunch. But I suppose if you're in the market for one of these cars, you're probably not really shoppin' around for a free lunch.
To end the tour, Anthony asked a question to which our Southern-accented guiding belle ostensibly didn't know the answer: "When the plant switched from 60% to 90% automation, did that result in job loss and if so, how much?" She claimed ignorance. She was probably right.
© 2002, 2003 Anthony Hecht and Liz Jones. All rights reserved.