This has involved the install-ation of a vario-shuttle, which, unlike a fixed shuttle, allows ultimate flexibility in the paint factory.
“With this new technology, one can accommodate changes to the line at the click of a button, enabling interference with the process as required, such as speeding it up or slowing it down,” explains BMW South Africa MD Ian Robertson.
The system is expected to be 100% online by the end of the month.
The Rosslyn plant is the first plant in the world to install this technology, which is an exciting development for the local auto- motive industry, as it proves that the country is no longer taking on old technology, but in fact pioneering new technology.
It is believed that BMW chose the South African plant to trial the technology as it is relatively small and flexible in nature.
Robertson is aware of a further nine plants around the world now looking to implement the vario-shuttle.
The existing paint-preparation facility is to be replaced with a flexible body workshop that is to be installed in the next twelve months.
BMW South Africa has really proved that the local industry can enjoy tremendous export success.
Over 80% of the 55 000 three-series four-door vehicles (right- and left-hand drive) that the local company manufactured last year were exported.
The company’s main export market is the US, which absorbed 24 000 of these vehicles.
This success has been spurred on by the the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa), which allows duty-free importation of products into the US.
At the moment, BMW is the only original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) exporting the US and thus benefiting from Agoa.
Robertson is aware of another local OEM investigating the possibility of exporting to the US, though.
“The US market was easy for us to tap into as our facility has the flexibility to manufacture both right- and left-hand drive vehicles.
“Most of the other OEMs in South Africa only manufacture right-hand drive vehicles, meaning that a significant investment will have to be made on their part in order to manufacture left-hand drive vehicles and to thus be in a position to take advantage of Agoa,” indicates Robertson.
However, there are component manufacturers in South Africa exporting to the US successfully, exporting products such as alloy wheels and catalytic converters.
BMW South Africa’s second-largest market is Japan (10 000 units), with the remaining exports going to Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Australia.
The company is in line with its strategy to produce to a capacity of 60 000 units by next year.
Robertson affirms his confidence of a successor model being built in South Africa when the current three-series model comes to the end of its life.
“We are confident of future investment by BMW in South Africa until at least 2010 or 2011.
“I believe South Africa remains an attractive investment location for OEMs.
“Although the country has a logistical disadvantage, both inbound and outbound, being at the southern tip of Africa with most markets being in the Northern Hemisphere, it has a cost advantage over many other competitors in land, power and labour and the surety offered through the Motor Industry Development Plan’s ten-year horizon,” informs Robertson.
“That said, there are new participants, such as China, coming into the industry that have many of the advantages that South Africa has, and others, and we will have to work harder to gain investment,” he adds.
About 60% of the content built into BMW SA’s vehicles is sourced locally.
However, Robertson believes there is opportunity for his company to increase this.
“The exporting of components is an area where I believe we will see much growth in the next few years as we have proved that the ability is indeed there.
“The new Supplier Development Park being developed at Rosslyn (outside Pretoria) by the Automotive Industry Development Centre and the Gauteng government, will offer significant support to component suppliers.
“The park is also of benefit to the OEMs, as it will significantly improve inbound and outbound logistics, especially important for the automotive industry, which has relatively small margins,” he continues.
There are 32 BMW models available on the local market, opposed to 11 five years ago.
The company enjoys just under 10% of the domestic market, the highest share BMW has in any country in the world, with the average being between 2% and 3%.
Robertson expects a tougher year for 2003 on the domestic market, as a result of high interest rates and following what he believes to have been pre-emptive buying last year as a result of the dramatic weakening of the rand at the end of 2001.
Exciting new technology within the vehicles is to arrive in South Africa soon, such as Bluetooth technology, which enables wireless interface with the owner’s mobile phone and the car’s system.
Adaptive light control, which illuminates the road ahead for the BMW driver taking a bend or following winding roads, is also on its way.