Plant Rosslyn’s New Beginning.
With Plant Rosslyn now producing the all-new BMW X3, the BMW South Africa family is looking proudly to the past, and with confidence to the future.
If you’ve spent any time at BMW South Africa’s Plant Rosslyn production facility, you’ll be familiar with its peculiar sounds. There’s the buzz of the body shop, the hiss of the paint shop, the hum of the final assembly line and, in February, there was the roar of cheers and applause as the 1,191,604th – and, for Plant Rosslyn, the last – BMW 3 Series Sedan rolled off the production line.
Earlier this year, Plant Rosslyn switched from producing the BMW 3 Series to the all-new BMW X3 Crossover SAVs, following a massive, R6.16 billion investment that has seen the plant’s production line grow by almost 10%, from 71,000 to 76,000 units per annum. As a compact luxury SAV, the all-new BMW X3 is higher, longer and wider than the BMW 3 Series Sedan – so Plant Rosslyn needed an extensive infrastructure overhaul to prepare for that production switch. That expansion project included a new, 26,000 m2 purpose-built body shop, which is equipped with 288 state-of-the-art Kuka vehicle assembly robots.
Those robots represent some of the most advanced technology in the automotive industry, and to ensure BMW Plant Rosslyn’s associates have the skills required to operate them, BMW invested around R25 million in training ahead of the plant’s BMW X3 production start-up.
3 Series of generations
Understandably, there’s a huge sense of excitement among the plant’s associates. Daniel Motlhabi, who worked as a quality inspector at Plant Rosslyn until his retirement in 2013, was there to see the BMW 3 Series come off the plant’s assembly line for the last time (production of the BMW 3 Series will now move to Mexico). “I worked on them all,” he laughs, reflecting on his 36-year career at BMW. “I remember the first 3 Series we made was the E30, which we called ‘Gusheshe’” – here he stops for a naughty chuckle (“gusheshe” means “panty dropper”).
Daniel’s daughter Mary started working in Plant Rosslyn’s paint shop shortly before he retired. She and her son Reo are standing alongside Daniel, posing for pictures with the plant’s last BMW 3 Series. “I was very happy to pass the torch, in a way, to my daughter,” he says. “I’ve told my grandson that when he has completed his tertiary education, he must come back here to BMW and to Plant Rosslyn. He has already said he wants to learn to be an engineer.”
Young Reo couldn’t pick a better place to learn his trade. Plant Rosslyn’s expansion includes a brand new, state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence, where associates are trained in operating BMW’s futuristic vehicle assembly equipment. “Our R6.16 billion investment to prepare for the new model BMW X3 is the biggest investment ever in the South African automobile industry,” says Plant Rosslyn Director Stefan Huelsenberg. “This is a clear sign of the commitment of the BMW Group to South Africa’s economy and its people. And when we talk about BMW South Africa’s investment in the community, it’s not only the investment in the people who are working in Plant Rosslyn.”
He’s right, of course. BMW Group South Africa directly and indirectly employs more than 40,000 people, including associates at Plant Rosslyn, along with the national sales organisation, dealer staff and first-, second- and third-tier supplier employees.
One of those associates is Peter Temba, Head of Lean Manufacturing System (VPS) at BMW South Africa. Like Daniel, he sees his own career reflected in the recent changes at Plant Rosslyn. “I started working here 36 years ago, in June 1982,” he says. “So I’ve been part of all the BMW 3 Series produced at Plant Rosslyn. The BMW 3 Series is a small car compared to the BMW X3, and when I started out I was a small boy. Now I am a grown-up, an old man ready to go on pension – and now the big car is coming in. My wish is for the younger generation to be able to say the same. Let them see new and bigger models coming in as they stay here at Plant Rosslyn so that they can tell their own story.”
Like many in the BMW South Africa family, Huelsenberg has mixed emotions about Plant Rosslyn’s switch from the 3 Series to the X Series. “It feels like the end of an era,” he says. “When Plant Rosslyn started production of the first generation 3 Series, we started our growth story – both in regard to increasing our production volumes, and in creating jobs in our community and growing the family of the plant.”
Nothing, however, can dampen his excitement about producing the all-new BMW X3. “In the past few years, the biggest growth within the worldwide BMW Group has been in the X-models. With the all-new BMW X3 – the G01 – Plant Rosslyn will continue its success story.”