COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — German automaker BMW is adding 300 new jobs at its South Carolina plant and making a $900 million investment to expand the site over the next three years.
Company officials said Thursday the move will ramp up production at the plant to at least 300,000 cars this year and introduce a new X4 model.
At an event held at the plant Thursday, the company also celebrated the milestone of 2 million vehicles rolling off its lines since it opened in 1994.
"This site is an essential pillar of our international production," said Frank-Peter Arndt, BMW's board member responsible for production, speaking during a webcast of the celebration.
Arndt said the move is in response to "the rising global demand for our BMW X models."
He thanked the South Carolina workers at the plant, and said they had helped the company buck the problems of the current economic downturn. They helped BMW turn aside predictions from others in the automotive industry that the company was making a mistake by investing in the state, and he thanked Gov. Nikki Haley for her support.
"The ultimate driving machine didn't follow the crowd," Arndt said. "We moved in to stay."
Arndt said the plant will have 7,500 employees by the end of the year and that it could produce up to 350,000 vehicles by 2014.
"BMW has once again provided tremendous evidence that South Carolina is a blueprint for significant economic development success. The partnership between this company and our state is an enduring example of how to attract, retain and grow business to stimulate perpetual job creation," said Haley.
BMW said its investment at its only U.S. plant has amounted to $6 billion over the years.
Arndt said that plant produced 276,065 vehicles for over 130 markets around the world in 2011, representing a 73 percent increase from the year before.
Seventy percent of the vehicles produced were exported, and the company's cars remain in high demand, he said.
Arndt said more than 117,000 of the X3's were sold in 2011, representing a 156 percent growth of the vehicle over its predecessor.
Since 1994, the South Carolina plant has undergone four major expansions and produced six different BMW models: the first American-made 318i; the Z3 and Z4 roadsters, and the X5, X6, and X3 sports activity coupes and their variants.
When the plant opened in 1994, BMW employed 500 people at the 1,000 acre site. It was the German automaker's first full manufacturing site outside of Germany.
Josef Kerscher, President of BMW Manufacturing, said the fact that the plant has produced 2 million cars "prepared our team well to meet the new opportunities that lie ahead for our plant. We look forward to a new model with great anticipation."
South Carolina Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the company's impact on the state's economy was worth celebrating.
"This new economic investment and commitment of jobs is a testament to South Carolina's strong automotive manufacturing industry," Hitt said.
The 2 millionth car to roll off the line was a red metallic X3 driven by 16-year BMW associate Terry Gardner.
Company officials said the car would be put on display at the site in celebration of the production milestone.