BMW’s Game Changer.

As the millionth BMW 3 Series rolls off the production line at Plant Rosslyn in Pretoria, we take a look at what made this the most successful model ever.

Published: July 2015
Video/Photos: Supplied

This year, the millionth BMW 3 Series Sedan rolled off the assembly line at the Rosslyn Plant outside Pretoria. This was exciting for two main reasons. The first is that the Rosslyn Plant has a unique place in BMW history, and this occasion was a landmark event in BMW’s long history in South Africa. The second is that 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the BMW 3 Series, BMW’s most successful model ever.


BMW might now have 30 manufacturing sites in 14 countries, but in 1973 when the Rosslyn Plant opened, it was the BMW Group’s first plant outside of Germany. Devan Moodley, South Africa’s Product Manager: BMW 3 Series, 4 Series, M3 and M4, calls it “the jewel in the crown”.

The Rosslyn Plant and the BMW 3 Series together went on to have an indelible effect on the history of BMW, in South Africa and abroad. The Rosslyn Plant was from a very early stage closely associated with the BMW 3 Series, particularly from 1982 when the second generation was introduced, and it was produced there until 1989. From 1990, the Rosslyn Plant produced vehicles, including the third generation for export markets, too. Since 1998, the Rosslyn Plant has produced the BMW 3 Series for local and export markets. The US and Canada alone make up over 60 per cent of the Rosslyn Plant’s export market.

The year the first BMW 3 Series was introduced
Percentage increase in global sales in the first three years after launch
More than 14 million have been sold worldwide

The millionth BMW 3 Series to be built at the Rosslyn Plant created a moment to reflect on the dovetailing histories of BMW and the Rosslyn Plant. Barely pausing for breath, the Rosslyn Plant is already gearing up to produce some other very special milestone vehicles. “We are going to make special-edition BMW 3 Series to celebrate the model’s 40 years,” says Devan. “There will be just 400 units made. It will have unique colours, wheel combinations, a leather embossed dash, and individual trim finish.”


These 400 units will commemorate the characteristics that have made the BMW 3 Series such a game changer for BMW. Devan points out that the BMW 3 Series is not a smaller version of a large luxury sedan – as had been the case with the smaller models built by other manufacturers of luxury sedans – but has pioneered a new category that BMW has dominated ever since. “BMW invented the category of the small, sporty luxury sedan with the BMW 3 Series,” says Devan. “It is the foundation of the brand.”

The BMW 3 Series was also the first model in its class to offer such a wide variety of body styles beyond a sedan, including a convertible, a coupe, the Touring, the Compact and the Gran Turismo. “In my opinion, no car sounds, feels, drives or steers like a BMW,” says Devan. “The spirit of BMW is embodied in the 3 Series. It is the heart of the brand.”


The proof is in the numbers. After the introduction of the first BMW 3 Series in 1975 (taking the flag from the likes of the elegant BMW 2002 coupe, made in the 60s), global sales soared by 74 per cent in the first three years after its launch. Today, the BMW 3 Series accounts for around a quarter of BMW sales. “One in every three BMWs sold in South Africa is a BMW 3 Series,” adds Devan. In the past 40 years, more than 14 million have been sold worldwide – the only premium car in history to have reached so many customers.

The first-generation 3 Series, which initially appeared in 1975, invented a new category that has become a cornerstone of the BMW brand: the small, sporty, luxury sedan.
BMW’s 3 Series' versatile design and sporting performance made it the perfect accompaniment to an active, adventurous lifestyle.
On its debut in 1987, the M3 won the European world championship titles in touring car racing and the DTM series.
The sixth generation of the 3 Series saw the evolution of the classical lines of its predecessor, a paragon of the twin virtues of the BMW brand: tradition and progressive technology and aesthetics.
So successful was the 1975 design of the first BMW 3 Series that design features such as the twin headlights and the distinctive kidney grille became hallmarks of the brand.
Devan Moodley, South Africa’s Product Manager: BMW 3 Series, 4 Series, M3 and M, with the first 40-Year BMW 3 Series Edition car to come off the production line.

So powerful was the effect of the BMW 3 Series that certain features of its iconic design became hallmarks of the BMW brand. The BMW kidney grille and the double lights, for example, have their origins in that very first BMW 3 Series made in 1975. For six generations, it has remained central to BMW’s evolution and development in aerodynamics, performance and handling, and the competition has never come close.


The Rosslyn Plant has also gone from one success to another. Last year, BMW 3 Series Sedan exports from the Rosslyn Plant increased by over 17 per cent, cementing BMW South Africa’s position as the country’s leading exporter of premium vehicles and components. (Last year alone, 68 771 of them were built at the Rosslyn Plant, and Devan ventures that the figure this year is in the region of 80 000.)

We are going to make a special-edition BMW 3 Series to celebrate the model’s 40-year anniversary. There will be just 400 units made.

This year, the Rosslyn Plant was awarded the 2015 Plant Assembly Line Quality Award (based on models produced for the US market) and the Platinum Plant Quality Award, which represents the highest-performing assembly plant in the world for initial quality.


Of course, the story doesn’t end there. The BMW 3 Series will continue to be a pioneer in the BMW stable with exciting developments planned. First of all, it is being enriched with new, cutting-edge engine technology. All three-, four-, and six-cylinder petrol engines, as well as the four-cylinder diesel units, are now sourced from the recently developed, modular BMW EfficientDynamics engine family. Depending on the model, the latest BMW 3 Series can offer an improvement

on fuel efficiency by up to 13 per cent, and also boasts innovations that no other competitor in this segment offers – such as 4G, the fastest mobile technology standard.


The introduction of the BMW 330e next year, which, incidentally is BMW’s centenary, will mark a further milestone. The new BMW 3 Series Plug-in Hybrid will raise the bar in its segment, with fuel consumption of just 2.1 l/100km, which means only 49g CO2, but with 185 kW/249 bhp, for a dynamic driving experience.


It’s clear: the BMW 3 Series will continue to lead the way into the future, with its tradition of innovation. There simply can be no other car like it.