Rosslyn, Gauteng - The BMW X3 in this picture is blue, but it marks a red-letter day in the history of the Rosslyn plant north of Pretoria, the oldest BMW manufacturing facility in the world outside of Germany.

It's the first production X3 built at Rosslyn, after 35 years of building 3 Series sedans - 1 191 604 of them, to be precise - for both the domestic and export markets and, in a way, it is symptomatic of a world-wide trend for both BMW and the global market, as sedan sales fade and demand for SUVs keeps growing.

Since the launch of the first X5 in 1999, sales of BMW's X-derivative SUV models have increased to more than 30 percent of the the Blue Propeller's global total, and there was no way the dedicated X factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, could keep up with the demand.

So the decision was made, three years ago, to concentrate 3 Series production elsewhere and spend R6 billion on revamping the Rosslyn plant to produce the third-generation X3. But even while the renovations were underway, it became obvious that the planned capacity of 71 000 X3s a year wasn't going to be enough, so an additional R160 million was poured into the project to increase that to 76 000, while still rolling out the first customers cars on schedule at the beginning of April 2018.

You might have thought that new BMW X3s had already started streaming out of BMW’s Rosslyn plant - given that it was launched here back in November - but actually those initial units were imported here for customers that didn’t want to wait until now to take delivery of BMW’s latest mid-sized SUV.

BMW Group South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa CEO Tim Abbott said allocating production of such an important model to the Rosslyn plant was "about as big a vote of confidence as it gets".

"Demand for the X3 globally is powerful," he said, "and ramping up on time and to the right standards is vital to its success."

BMW has also localised production of as many components as possible for the X3, making this the most 'local' model it has built to date, and is a participant in a proposed venture fund to develop still more locally-owned producers for the South African automotive supply chain.

IOL Motoring