In Europe and Japan, where land is scarce and car dealers can’t stock scores of new vehicles on the lot, car buyers order their new vehicles exactly as they want them equipped, then they patiently wait for the factory to build and ship the vehicle to the dealer. A six- or eight-week interval between order and delivery is not uncommon.
In the U.S., however, we’re not so fond of the wait. This inclination can be traced back to World War II, when no new cars were manufactured, leading to pent-up demand that led to Americans’ immense post-war need to have a new car — now.
Over the years some automakers have tried to get U.S. customers interested in advance ordering their cars, and even though it results in a vehicle exactly as desired by the buyer, build-to-order efforts have never taken off in the U.S.
Now, BMW of North America is giving it a try again, encouraging customers to advance order the all-new 2011 X3 crossover that, for the first time, is being assembled in the U.S. in Spartanburg, S.C.
BMW’s $750-million investment in advanced, flexible tooling and assembly processes at the Spartanburg plant means it’s now much easier to build vehicles to exact specifications, one-by-one. When production of the second-generation X3 starts in the fourth quarter of this year, the company thinks it could assemble and deliver a built-to-order 2011 X3 in two weeks, a small enough lag time that might change our almost genetic inclination to find and buy a vehicle all in the same day.
With the U.S.-made X3s, “We’ve got a logistics advantage,” says Joseph M. Wierda, BMWNA product manager for the 3 Series and X3. Because the customer’s BMW no longer has to come across the ocean, the time to deliver a build-to-order vehicle is drastically cut. Combine that with the Spartanburg plant’s new state-of-the-art flexibility and BMW figures it can deliver the buyer’s exact specified X3 as quickly as two weeks from when the order is submitted. He also suggested BMW could extend the build-to-order program to the X3’s big-brother, the X5, which is extensively revised for 2011 and also is built in Spartanburg. Customers can go to the BMW web site to spec their 2011 model exactly as they want, then print out a form to take to the dealer where the final price will be determined — available incentives can be applied and haggling is permitted — and the dealer will process the order.
“The goal is to leave the transaction process between dealers and customers as-is,” Wierda said.