The History of BMW in America

BMW is one of the most well known German automotive manufacturers in the world. The brand has been around since the early 1900s, tracing its lineage back to 1916, though it didn’t release its first motorcycle until 1923 and its first car until 1928. While most recognize the logo when they see it, when did this iconic brand make its way across the pond to America? 

Let’s take a look at the history of BMW in the United States and where it might go in the future. 

1956 — Introducing BMW to the U.S.

BMW first started selling its cars in the United States in 1956. At the time, however, if you wanted to bring home a piece of this German engineering, you had to have it shipped from overseas. Still, that didn’t stop dedicated BMW fans from seeking out models like the Isetta 300 Motocoupe from Europe.

An Austrian-born car dealer named Max Hoffman bought the rights to sell BMWs and other imported cars in the U.S. in 1954, though it didn’t do him much good until 1962 when the 02 Series started to become popular. BMWs have been a significant part of American automotive history since then, but that was where the story started, not where it ended. 

1975 — The First U.S.-Based Dealership

1975 was one of the most significant years for BMW in the U.S., as it marked the opening of the brand’s first dealership on this side of the pond after buying back the distribution rights from Hoffman. While its first entrants into the automotive market weren’t well-received — especially when overshadowed by the oil crisis of the early 1970s — once the brand started getting its foot in the door, it took off with a vengeance. 

The 1982 E30 was one of the brand’s biggest successes to date, and that growth led them to make another massive decision a decade later.

1994 — Manufactured in the U.S.

In 1994, BMW opened a manufacturing plant in Greer, South Carolina, making it the brand’s first factory in the United States. In 2016, BMW was the 12th highest-selling vehicle in the States, primarily due to the number of cars it was capable of assembling domestically. Today, the Spartanburg plant produces half a dozen models, including the X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7 SUVs, and is capable of completing more than 1,500 vehicles every single day.

The Future of BMW in America

BMW is one stalwart brand that is always changing and evolving with the times. 

While it might be too early to tell where the future of this company lies, one thing is certain — the U.S. automotive market would be a vastly different place if a single car salesman named Max Hoffman hadn’t purchased BMW’s distribution rights back in the 1950s. He was the man who showed us what BMW was and what it could be. While people may not have flocked to earlier models in decades past, these cars might not have made it to America otherwise.