The Road to Global Dominance: Analyzing BMW’s Expansion Efforts

BMW is one of the most successful names in the automobile industry. For over 100 years, the automaker has made its mark with the i8, 3 Series, 4 Series and its line of motorcycles.

Nowadays, you can find BMWs in all six inhabited continents, with plants in Europe, Africa, North America, South America and Asia. How did BMW get so popular? Here’s a timeline of their expansion efforts in the last century. 

The Impact of World War II

World War II devastated BMW as the Allied forces bombed or dismantled its plants across Germany. The company relinquished control over its manufacturing sites for nearly a decade. During this time, BMW slowly rebuilt its post-war production with motorcycles and models like the 501.  

By the early 1960s, BMW returned to its pre-war status in the auto industry with the 1500 sedan. Twentieth-century Bimmer drivers lauded the 1500 and sparked a decade of excellent sales numbers for the manufacturer. In 1967, BMW outgrew its plant in Munich and needed to expand, so it acquired facilities in Dingolfing and Landshut, Germany. The company only needed a few more years before looking to another continent. 

First Expansion Efforts

In the late 1960s, BMW assembled the Glas 1800 at a plant near Pretoria, South Africa — the country’s administrative capital. By 1972, the automaker’s board members decided to purchase the production facility. BMW’s plant in Rosslyn became known as BMW South Africa — the first manufacturing facility for BMW outside of Germany in the country’s history. 

The Pretoria plant became significant for BMW as it continued producing the Glas 1800 SA and the BMW 2000 SA. In 1984, a decade after establishing the South African plant, the company began producing 3 Series vehicles here. 

Heading to the U.S.

The next expansion came nearly two decades later. In 1989, BMW wanted to build a plant in the United States. The country is very car-centric and has been for almost a century, so it makes great sense to build here. By 1980, nearly 90% of Americans owned at least one car, so establishing a BMW plant would be a significant step for the automaker.

In 1994, BMW opened its first American production plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The location gave BMW a foothold in the southern United States and a spot near the Atlantic coast. BMW initially used the Spartanburg plant to build the Z3 Roadster — but now it produces the X3, X4, X5 and X6, making it a pivotal location for the manufacturer. 

The facility is crucial for BMW’s presence in America and South Carolina, employing 43,000 people and contributing nearly $27 billion annually to the state. 

Acquiring a Big Name

BMW’s international expansion began to accelerate in the 1990s. At the end of the century, auto manufacturers, tech companies and other corporations realized globalization leads to better products at lower prices in nearly every industry. After American expansion, BMW looked to the U.K. for its next global opportunity.

In 1994, BMW purchased the Rover Group, the manufacturer of the Land Rover, the Mini, the Triumph and more. It didn’t last long, with the automotive group selling Rover by 2000. However, they kept the Mini, a staple for Bimmer fans today. 

In 1998, BMW made a massive decision by purchasing Rolls-Royce — one of the world’s most famous luxury car brands — away from Volkswagen. The automaker built a new headquarters and plant in Goodwood, a hub for motor enthusiasts in southern England.

Expanding to Asia

In 2003, BMW began producing Rolls Royces at its Goodwood location and made plans to expand into Asian markets. The manufacturer announced it would construct a plant in Shenyang, northeast of Beijing. BMW vehicles rolled off the production lines in 2004 for Shenyang residents. By 2012, BMW grew again with another plant in Shenyang — Plant Tiexi. 

Crossing into South America

By the 2010s, BMW left its mark on Europe, Africa, North America and Asia. In 2014, it expanded into South America for the fifth continent with a manufacturing plant in Araquari, Brazil. The southeastern Brazilian plant produced its first car in early September and has been integral to BMW’s presence in Latin America since. 

BMW in Mexico

The most recent development for BMW is opening a plant in Mexico. The San Luis Potosí facility opened in 2019 and will be a significant part of the future for the manufacturer as it looks to electric vehicles (EVs). BMW announced substantial investments to build high-voltage batteries and hire more employees to meet the demand for EVs. 

EVs are the future for BMW and other manufacturers, but what about hydrogen-powered cars and other alternative energy sources? Currently, BMW produces hydrogen-powered vehicles at its Munich plant, but watch for even more international expansion as technologies and markets evolve. 

BMW’s Global Impact

BMW is one of the most recognizable names in the automotive industry. For over 50 years, the company only produced in Germany, but its gradual globalization has led to success on multiple continents. 

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