The locally built BMW X3 scything through Mpumalanga roads.
The locally built BMW X3 scything through Mpumalanga roads.

BMW’s manufacturing plant in Rosslyn, Tshwane remains one steeped in history with the German firm having been the first manufacturer to have an export programme in SA.

This is according to Stefan Huelsenberg, director of BMW Plant Rosslyn, who recently addressed a contingent of motoring journalists, including Motor News, at the newly upgraded facility as part of the X3 Xplore media tour programme hosted for journalists.

Having invested R11.5bn since 1996, including the most recent R6.1bn since 2015 to switch production from the long-running 3 Series to the latest X3 mid-size SUV, the operation runs three eight-hour shifts a day. The upgrades mean the potential production capacity of the X3 has been raised by 10% compared to the 3 Series, which means a maximum annual production of 76,000 units of the new X3 can be achieved.

Since 1994, some 840,000 cars have been exported from the plant with more than 40,000 jobs supported by BMW SA. About R73m has been invested in the new BMW Group Training Academy where more than 4,956 dealer staff and 4,680 BMW SA workers have learnt new skills to date.

BMW Plant Rosslyn was awarded the Platinum Plant Quality Award in the JD Power 2015 Initial Quality Study (IQS) for producing 3 Series models with the fewest defects or malfunctions. The award recognised it as the best plant in the world in the IQS 2015, marking only the second time a BMW plant anywhere in the world had won a platinum award.

Now the plant is shifting up another gear as part of its renewable energy programme, which will see all BMW Group production locations move to renewable electricity supply by 2020. BMW Plant Rosslyn currently uses 30% renewable electricity, which is generated by the Bio2Watt Biogas Plant in Bronkhorstspruit established in 2007. The plant is located on the premises of one of SA’s larger feedlots — a Beefcor-run facility with some 25,000 cattle. About 40,000 tonnes of cattle manure and 20,000 tonnes of mixed organic waste per annum are fed into two anaerobic digesters in which biogas — methane gas — is produced. This then goes into a gas engine to produce electricity, which is distributed into the grid for uptake by power purchasers such as BMW. The City of Tshwane is also a key supplier of waste to the project.

It remains an excellent innovation, which if done on a larger scale could see a huge reduction in landfills due to waste, and reduce reliance on coal-generated electricity supply.

As part of the Xplore media tour we also got to sample some X3 diesel variants — the first units to be built at the plant for the local market as all the production has until now been exported overseas (the new-generation X3s sold in SA thus far have all been imports).

We took them for a jaunt around the newly developed BMW X Lifestyle Park (BMW XLP) in Waterfall, Midrand (behind the Mall of Africa shopping centre), which has been set up to cater for X models now accounting for about 30% of the company’s global sales. Scheduled to open to the public in November 2018, with course modules said to start at R2,750, the facility boasts a 1.3km off-road track that has been developed to showcase the capability of the BMW xDrive system through 12 off-road modules.

We tried out the facility’s steep inclines and descents, as well as water wading, sand driving and traversing over some rocks. The X3 tackled the exercises with great aplomb and the xDrive system did its best to shuffle power to the wheels with the best traction to pull us out of some sticky situations.

We then nosed our cavalcade of X3s towards Mpumalanga and Limpopo where the vehicle proved to be just at home on tarmac as it was on gravel.