Earlier today, I mentioned I was starting on a cross-country trip to LA to drop off a reader-spec'd BMW 2 Series to our contest winner. What I didn't mention was that the trip has sort of started already, since I went to pick up the BMW from their Greenville, SC factory. This is by far the best way to pick up a new BMW.
Well, I guess the really best is if you collect it by being hover-dropped onto it from a sex blimp, but none of those things really exist yet.
BMW arranged for us to pick up the car via their BMW Performance Center Delivery, which is normally only available to non-deadbeats who have actually gone out and purchased a new BMW of their very own. Happily, BMW decided to make an exception for us.
The Delivery Experience beats the hell out of paying $800 or more in destination fees to a dealer. At no extra charge, BMW buyers have the option of getting to Greenville, SC, where BMW will put them up in a hotel, then treat them to a day of performance driving training and a factory tour. Then you'd drive your new baby home, a little more confident a driver. It's a great way to get a car.
The Delivery Experience felt a bit like a press event-lite, and that's a good thing, because all that really means is a combination of driving and food.
The driving events included a wet skid pad to show off the impressive traction control capabilities, and, as importantly, to show how to do some great 360°s in a car with all the traction control robots off. There's also a panic braking event, and, the most fun, an autocross-like handling and agility loop. BMW professional drivers are on hand the whole time to coach as needed, and then they take you on a pants-soiling mad lap around their track.
I've done most of this stuff before at press events, so it's easy to be jaded, but you have to remind yourself that people with more worthwhile jobs often never get this sort of opportunity, and it's a fantastic introduction to all the capabilities of the car they just bought that they likely will never ever use (well, some probably will, but I'm talking about the more average customer) to anywhere near its limits.
By exposing these new buyers to what their new cars are capable of and giving them a taste for how it feels, they're making better, more engaged drivers, and possibly opening some people up to more driving-because-its-great events down the road. Honestly, I wish every new car came with a day like this.
The Performance Driving School also included a run in some BMW X3s over a nicely aggressive off-road course, including lots of terrain designed to tilt the SUVs onto two wheels and a nice long stretch of 2-foot or so deep water to drive through. These were also clearly situations most buyers would never find themselves willingly in.
The Greenville factory produces all of the world's X3s, X4s X5s, and X6s. All of them. If you're in St.Petersburg and a X5 runs you off the road, those bastards are driving something that started right there in the Palmetto state and we'll be happy to run their dashcam footage.
The factory is as modern and impressive as almost all modern automobile factories are. They didn't allow any photos to be taken, but there's three interesting things about the factory I'd like to mention:
• The whole factory runs on methane, and much of that methane is extracted as gas produced from a nearby landfill. That also means that, hypothetically and with enough logistics, the factory could run on farts.
• The tour guide we had spoke about the robots on the factory floor in surprisingly human terms. One she said was a Swiss robot, and since it was Swiss, it was very, very precise. Like it's subject to the same stereotypes as swiss people. She referred to these big industrial arm-like robots as having faces on several occasions, and once described a robot sheathed in a white anti-dust cover as "being dressed in white." I found it kind of endearing.
• On the factory floor, we hear the theme song to The Jeffersons being blasted. It's part of a system to get a supervisor's attention to a particular area, coded via audio clips. Clever, but still, one of the last things I even expected to hear on a BMW factory floor was "We're moving' on up! To the East Side! To Deeee-luxe apartment, in the skyy—hiii—iiiii!"
If you're buying a BMW anytime soon and have the option of taking delivery via the Performance Center, I can't see any good reason not to. You get to do a bit of competitive-style driving while being coached by drivers who really know their stuff, and then after that, you get to spend some quality time with your new baby driving home. Beats the hell out of paying some dealer just to truck it out, right?
But, still, the important thing here is that, Andrew, I'm coming. I'm going to swing by Austin on the way and pick up our own Patrick George, and maybe we'll solve some crimes or get into some wacky misadventures along the way.
And I'm apologizing right now, up front, about that smell.