BMW Is Playing A Dangerous Game

BMW Is Playing A Dangerous Game
Photo: BMW

Tesla, Ford, GM, Fiat Chrysler, Kia, Hyundai, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, Volkswagen, and Volvo have all announced that they will temporarily suspend production in some form in their American plants to help fight coronavirus. But not BMW. No, BMW is alone in still going full steam ahead.

Update: BMW says it’ll close the plant, but not until April.

BMW Manufacturing announced today that it will shut down production from April 3 through April 19th. The health and protection of our employees is our top priority. At the same time, the dynamic development of the corona pandemic is having a major impact on the global demand for cars. We are therefore taking a flexible approach and adjusting our production volumes accordingly. On April 3th we will shut down production at Plant Spartanburg in South Carolina. The production break is expected to last until April 19th. The plant will continue to monitor this rapidly developing situation with the BMW Group and state government officials during this two-week period of non-production.

This article has since been updated with new information. You can read the original version below.

South Carolina, where BMW’s massive Spartanburg plant is, has not been exempt from coronavirus, with crowds dispersed at beaches, non-essential state employees sent home, schools and many churches closed, and college students sent home to complete the semester online. Eighty-one people in the state have tested positive for coronavirus and one person has died, according to The State.

None of this, apparently, has perturbed BMW much. This week, it put out a statement acknowledging that things were a little weird now but said that it has things under control.

In regard to closing plant Spartanburg, we continue to monitor the situation in South Carolina daily and are in close alignment with both state and local government officials.

We recognise that we are in a dynamic situation and we are prepared to adjust quickly based on the daily analysis of the current environment.

In parallel, we have implemented numerous measures to protect the health and safety of our employees.

So far they have not responded to an email for comment today, but according to Bloomberg’s sources, the company will be idling its South Carolina—but not until April and only because they are running out of parts, not because they want to help combat coronavirus. Here’s Bloomberg:

BMW AG’s SUV plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, one of the last U.S. auto plants still operating, is expected to be idled early next month due to shortages of critical parts, according to people familiar with the matter.

The South Carolina factory, which makes the brand’s lucrative X3, X5 and X7 SUVs, will cease output in the first or second week of April, the people said.

[…]

BMW imports many key components such as engines and transmissions from Europe, where production has virtually ground to a halt due to the spread of the coronavirus.

This is all very weak stuff. As Gizmodo has reported, coronavirus is spreading from people who don’t feel sick, in addition to those where symptoms do show up. What that means is that it can be possible for none of BMW’s employees to show symptoms and yet they can still acquire and pass on the disease to others. Every new day at the factory is another day the disease can spread further.

BMW knows this, of course, having closed all their factories in Europe. Volvo, which also has a factory in South Carolina, also knows this, having said it would close its factory outside of Ridgeville between March 26 and April 14.

What makes BMW special is unclear. Since opening its factory in Greer, South Carolina, in 1994, it has expanded its presence there massively, currently employing around 11,000 people in a seven million-square-foot facility that made 411,620 X SUVs last year. Its presence has been a huge boon to the Upstate, and I’m sure few people there want it to sit idle any more than BMW does. But surely at some point, everyone has to consider the lives at stake.