• Mar 28th 2011 at 11:31AM
  • 16

BMW Plant Zero skunkworks – Click above to watch video after the jump

In the heart of Munich, hidden away from public view by corporate headquarters, is a factory that builds and develops BMW's prototypes, concept cars and test mules. The factory is a small operation, and, according to BMW, it was the first of its kind in the auto industry and continues to be one step ahead.

The plant serves not only as a site to build prototypes and test mules, but as a center to develop manufacturing methods for new models, and make sure tooling for upcoming models fit together just so. That purpose is served by one of the coolest parts of the skunkworks: a prototype milled from a solid block of aluminum. The company is mum on what the one-piece prototype represents, but just the fact that it exists is good enough for us.

The plant's other key function is the rapid development of parts as cars are being tested. If something breaks on a mule or BMW decides it's not up to snuff, Plant Zero can turn around a redesign piece in as little as three days. According to the plant manager, that's possible even with aluminum parts.

To see more of BMW's secret development center, check out the video after the jump. Thanks to all for the tips!

[Source: BMW via YouTube]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      I find their portrayal of the vinyl camouflage as "new technology" to be really backwards and misleading. Currently BMW has the best camo in the business. No one can tell what their vehicles will look like with all that chunky black plastic on them. Every other car company has been using some form of patterned black and white stickers on their cars for 10-20 years now, probably including BMW (until recently, of course). Why are they bragging about older and less effective camouflage as a new and superior technique?

      Maybe they just hate all the work the plastic takes to screw on to the body? The only other downside to it is aero, but that is only one aspect that could be tested very covertly, as opposed to all the other things they're testing for. Certainly even the bulk of cars with the vinyl disguise usually strap on foam, non-production lighting, fake grills, altered or absent emblems in the grills, chunky front and rear bras, etc. which messes with aero too. Maybe BMW misses the attention all the other spy shots get?
      • 4 Years Ago
      As someone who works in this segment of the industry, I must say I'm impressed and a bit jealous...it would be a great improvement for some domestics OEMs to have a similar link between design, production, engineering and testing groups. Unfortunately the UAW pretty much makes this an impossibility…like many other things.

      I REALLY like the fact each car is modeled precisely and then prototype parts can be checked against that...would eliminate millions of $ and thousands of man-hours that we currently spend back-tracking and redesigning when we encounter interference/heat transfer/etc issues…I hate the fact we don’t know we have a problem until AFTER a car is built in most cases…believe me that linking design, engineering & production teams together is a major WIN!!

      Hope this video makes the rounds to the senior VP/Exec level people here in Detroit…could learn an awful lot ; )
      • 4 Years Ago
      How and why does the UAW make this impossible?

      Is it the thousands of man-hours and thus jobs that they don't want the company to save?

      I used to think the German unions were difficult but appearantly the UAW is a differrent story altogether.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Oh sorry, this was meant to be a reply to It's me.

        Stupid commenting system!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Chris the BMW guy –

        I shouldn't have said 'impossible', I should have said 'very, very unlikely'.

        Speaking very generally - engineering, production, testing, etc teams cannot touch a car in UAW shop, literally. Engineers and designers can't perform any work, they cannot touch any tools because 'that's a union job'...sadly "hands on" engineering doesn't really mean that to many American engineers/designers (which is tragic considering they're the ones that could truly benefit from the experience).

        Seeing engineers, designers and production teams working together and actually physically doing work together, making tweaks, exchanging information - that’s a great benefit to BMW and the quality of their design processes (which I believe has an impact on the finished product as well). Yeah that kind of cooperation and interaction is just a pipe dream here...

        In the UAW's defense - they have assigned mainly the best, most reliable and fair members to the design studios/phases because cooperation is essential...but that's where it ends - any other levels of testing and development are subject to the usual union rules and general ‘hey that’s my job’ BS…

      • 4 Years Ago
      Oh cool, the Germans have perfected the cloaking device!
      • 4 Years Ago
      "Plant Zero can turn around a redesign piece in as little as three days. According to the plant manager, that's possible even with aluminum parts."

      Well, Audi can do even better. I've seen an Audi engineer create an entire car out of aluminium in 30 seconds - with his bare hands!
      • 4 Years Ago
      that aluminum prototype looks to be about the size of a 3er to me.
      • 4 Years Ago
      does anyone else see the "sponsored by Lexus" banner or is it just me?
      • 4 Years Ago
      That's the kind of video that will sell BMW's. Nice.
      • 4 Years Ago
      yeah that aluminum mock-up was very impressive.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Very cool!
      • 4 Years Ago
      the term skunkworks doesn't really apply here since this Plant Zero is very much a part of the normal
      process at BMW. it's not a radical group
      toiling away in secret off the books on a side project but the team that gets ideas built and on the road
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