By Colin Bird on September 17, 2010
When most Americans go to buy a car, they typically choose a model already on the lot with features that more or less meet their needs. Many end up sacrificing a specific color or feature to get a car then and there, but if BMW has its way, this inefficient practice would become a thing of the past.
According to Forbes and BMW itself, the automaker is a forefront player in the build-to-order market. The automaker’s plant in Spartanburg, S.C. – which builds the new 2011 BMW X3, X5 and X6 – is ground zero for custom-built BMWs in the U.S. For any BMW X model, you can pick the exact features, exterior and interior appearance you want with your local dealer. Within a few weeks, your car will be ready.
Today, only 15% of Americans custom-order their cars, Forbes says. Typically, luxurious cars like Maybach and popular niche vehicles like the Mini Copper and Fiat 500 are pre-ordered. Anticipation for the electric car has created 18,600 per-orders for the Nissan Leaf, and GM has seen high demand for its upcoming Chevrolet Volt. BMW hopes that 40% of its car shoppers will pre-order by 2015.
The uniqueness of getting the exact car you want has been proven to be a more satisfying purchase, according J.D. Power & Associates. For automakers, build-to-order can mean fatter profits: Folks who custom-order typically equip their vehicles to the gills. Keeping cars on a lot is also expensive, and it often leads to big incentives. Custom orders could create a just-in-time supply chain similar to the renowned system that Dell uses for its computers.
However, if you are a car shopper who is simply looking for the best deal, custom-built orders are not going to help you – fewer unwanted cars on dealer lots could mean fewer deals. If you’re impatient, do you really want to wait four to eight weeks for your new car?
BMW's Push for Made-to-Order Cars (Forbes)