Wolfgang Baumann (left) vice- president parts logistics management for BMW Group worldwide with Tim Abbott, CEO of BMW Group SA. Picture: BMW
Wolfgang Baumann (left) vice- president parts logistics management for BMW Group worldwide with Tim Abbott, CEO of BMW Group SA. Picture: BMW

You know that stereotype of German automotive execs being all straightfaced and serious?

Wolfgang Baumann is not like that at all. I got the distinct impression that the global vice-president of parts logistics management for BMW Group worldwide would actually rather talk about his beloved BMW 850i or Z3 M, even the X6 which is his daily drive than discuss parts logistics, but we forced him to talk shop for a bit.

Baumann has been very busy lately. BMW Group has created a new global parts distribution centre in Dingolfing, Germany, that houses more than 400,000 parts. Another site down the road houses 15,000 parts for BMW classic vehicles. In addition there is a new Continental Distribution Centre (CDC) in the US and another in China. Smaller CDCs are being created around the world including the one now open in SA.

It is a business that Baumann describes as "futureproof" as the number of vehicles continues to increase on the roads. Irrespective of what happens in the industry in terms of electric or automated vehicles, parts will always be required.

He says there will be little change in how parts distribution operates over the next 10 years. You might expect high levels of automation but he says it does not work. There is some, of course, but he says while automation works in logistics for production, it is not so effective for after-sales parts. Automation always operates at the same speed and cannot react to changes in demand, making it likely to remain a human business for many years to come.

3D printing is one area where technology is being used though and Baumann says currently BMW is using it to produce about 200 parts for older vehicles. He says it could change the stock situation but not the infrastructure.

On the subject of older models, he says that BMW Group is buying back vehicles in a number of countries to have more parts available but obviously there are strict quality control criteria in place.

Not even changes in politics or governments impact significantly on his business, he says.

Asked how Brexit might affect his operation, Baumann laughs and says there is nothing to talk about. This is partly because he says "no-one knows" what real effect Brexit will have but also because he has no choice but to find a solution. Parts have to be supplied no matter what happens.

"We will solve any parts issue for our Brexit customers," he says. It’s the same really for those in the US or China if there is any escalation of the current trade disagreements between the two countries.

While designers and engineers are looking at solutions for a rapidly changing automotive future, Baumann is quietly getting on with the job of making sure the group’s customers can get their parts.