blien - PCD

Monday, May 30, 2005

Performance Center Delivery - Part 1, May 25, 2005

On May 26, I experienced a Performance Center Delivery of my new 2005 Silver Gray M3.

For those who don't know, BMW offers each purchaser of a new BMW the opportunity to pick up their vehicle at BMW's Performance Center, which is adjacent to their manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, SC (actually it's in Greer, SC). There is no additional cost for this delivery option; the money BMW saves by not having to ship the car to your location is used to fund the day's events, as well as your food and lodging. You still have to pay the destination charge; that's what pays for the Performance Delivery.

Prior to my departure, BMW sent me a couple of letters confirming my delivery date, as well as some tips and instructions: e.g. flat, closed shoes (i.e. no sandals, etc.) are required for driving instruction and the factory tour.

My experience began when I boarded a flight down to South Carolina. When I arrived, I called the Greenville Marriott from the courtesy phone, as instructed in the letter. The receptionist confirmed my name, and said a driver would meet me out front in a silver BMW. I headed outside to wait.

10 minutes later, a silver E60 530i came rolling up, and a bellhop from the Marriott jumped out and put my luggage in the trunk. The drive to the hotel took about 7 minutes. On the way, I found out that the driver/bellhop's name was Warren, and he was originally from Hawaii. He was a very friendly fellow, and talked up the area and BMW's contributions quite a bit. Maybe that's part of his job. :) At the hotel, he parked the car out front in the circle, like it was on display, and brought my luggage in.

The hotel itself was quite nice, having recently received a multi-million dollar refurbishing. After checking in and settling myself in the room, I went downstairs to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant, Giatu. They have a special BMW menu: a choice of 2 salads, entree choice of filet mignon, chicken, or salmon, and choice of 2 desserts. After dinner, not having any transportation (although Warren did offer to drive me anywhere), I retired, watched some TV, and attempted to sleep.


Performance Center Delivery - Part 2, May 26, 2005 - Driving events

The next day, I grabbed some breakfast road food from the hotel restaurant and boarded the Marriott shuttle bus to the Performance Center. Wendy had decided not to accompany me on this trip down to South Carolina because of all the stuff that's going on with the house, as well as not wanting to leave Miranda for 3 days. Plus, she hates long road trips. My friend Ken, who is a fellow BMW enthusiast and owns a Le Mans Blue E39 M5, originally was going to drive up and join me for the trip, but he had to bail at the last moment due to a conflict with work. So I was by myself. Two other couples were joining me for delivery that day. One was taking delivery of an E90 330i, and another was getting an E46 cab.

When we got to the Performance Center, there were two 645Ci's parked outside (Black Sapphire and Mystic Blue), gleaming in the SC morning sun. We walked inside to the entrance foyer, and there was a Silver Gray M3, right there! This was a mild, but pleasant, surprise to me, and I forgot to take pictures; I went straight over to check it out. It looked great! Frederick pointed out that it was, indeed, my car. It turned out my "delivery bay" would be the entrance foyer, while the other two deliveries would happen in the regular delivery bays. I guess they put the hottest car out front. :)

We were briefly introduced to our Delivery Specialists: Jon, Gail, and Frederick. Frederick would be my Delivery Specialist. Our luggage was handled by the staff and placed into safekeeping. They told us that as a smaller group, we would be doing all the events together, rather than being split up as larger groups are. The driving events would happen first, then we were to take individual delivery of our vehicles. After lunch, we would visit the Zentrum (museum) and take the factory tour.

We were then introduced to our driving instructor, Ben Burrell, Director of Driver Education at the Center, and a road racer with over 30 years experience. We all went into a classroom for some brief chalktalk, as well as the signing of a waiver for the driving events. Ben explained some car control basics using a balloon and a water bottle to demonstrate weight transfer and grip levels, and a piece of paper to demonstrate the total area of the contact patches. Finally, he wrote "NYC" on the easel, and asked what it stood for. "New York City?" one of us offered. Nope. "Not Your Car," Ben answered. Don't be afraid to drive it hard, Ben said. In fact, he said, we want you to drive it hard to test and explore the limits, because we know you won't do it in your own car. Ha! I thought. Before we left the classroom, Ben asked me to raise my right hand and promise to break the M3 in correctly: Not above 4000 RPM for the first 600 miles, keep it below 5500 RPM and 105 MPH for the first 1250 miles.

We then headed outside and to a large collection of automobiles, M3s heavily represented, that the Performance Center uses for driving lessons, delivery events, etc. Ben demonstrated correct seating and mirror positions. I was glad to see that he validated the mirror positions I use. I wish Wendy had been there to hear that, because she always questions how I set my mirrors. :) Then it was time to drive!

I read that they give you a car very similar to the one you purchased, so that you can learn the dynamics of your own car. There were 3 E46s, one of them a silver M3 ZCP for me. I guess they didn't have any E90s, so that couple drove an E46 instead.

In each car was a radio clipped into the driver's side map pocket so that Ben could communicate into each car. We first followed Ben in a white X5 out to the autocross course portion of the Performance Center testing area (professionally rendered in blue on the map). As we made our way slowly around the course, Ben would drive the correct line, and give out tips over the radio along the way.

After a couple of laps, Ben pulled over and got out. The other cars' passengers also got out. We then started driving the course a little bit faster, with Ben offering suggestions and encouragement from his vantage point. He kept encouraging us to drive a bit faster. "OK, start pushing it, people!" At one point, he told me I wasn't giving enough steering input through the slalom section; I guess I was trying to cut it too close. He told me to look ahead and steer the car into each gate, not try to slide past each one. Doing so immediately set up a better rhythm, and the car responded beautifully. "Much better!" Ben replied.

After 10-15 increasingly aggressive laps, Ben told us to pull over and line up in a starting gate. We were to launch from the gate, head through the slalom, around the right hand sweeper, brake hard for the tight right hander, head into a S-curve section with elevation changes, and then brake hard into a stop box. These runs would be timed. Through the course of 3 timed laps, I was able to cut my time by over 2 seconds, although admittedly my first lap was hampered by my lack of familiarity with SMG, as well as some competitive trepidation.

After our timed laps, we got out and the ladies took their turn.

We then headed over to the small skidpads (lower left, in purple), where we would be given a demonstration of the effectiveness of DSC. One at a time we got into our cars, with Ben riding shotgun and reaching over to give steering inputs, and started going around the skidpad. When Ben said "floor it!," DSC intervened to keep the car going in a circle. Then we paused to turn off DSC. When Ben said "floor it!" again, the car spun out. Here's a video of a spin on the small skidpad. It was an effective demonstration of DSC, but not as much fun as the autocross portion, in my opinion.

This concluded the driving portion of the day, and we all drove back to take delivery of our cars.


Performance Center Delivery - Part 3, May 26, 2005 - Delivery and Tour

After the initial driving portion of the day, we headed back inside to take personalized delivery of our vehicles. Frederick met back up with me, and led me back to the entrance area to go over my car.

He first showed me the keys (2 main, 1 valet), as well as 2 Performance Center Delivery pins. We then went over each piece of documentation one by one: Owner's Manual, NAV/Computer manual, Check Engine Light explanation sheet, Accident Documentation pamphlet, Service Manual, etc. As nice as it was to be shown such attention to detail, I did get a little impatient. I was there for the car! Thankfully, Frederick only gave a cursory explanation to each document.

He then explained the operation of the key: locking, unlocking, trunk release. He also showed me how to remotely lower the windows. Unfortunately, he hadn't removed the "Do Not Touch! This is a customer's car!" placard resting on the passenger window. When that window went down, it drew the placard along with it into the door. It did not come back up when we raised the window. Frederick arranged for the Performance Center vehicle maintenance department to fish the placard out during lunch, and he was very apologetic and embarrassed.

We then proceeded to go over the car in detail, concentrating on the NAV/radio unit, as pretty much everything else was self explanatory to me. I verified that the car was delivered with 3 miles on the odometer. We also did an acquaintance call with BMW Assist, where Assist verified emergency contact information, as well as took my credit card number to activate the Assist service.

Finally, we paired my Bluetooth phone (Motorola V600) with the car. Once the phone and the car found each other, I simply had to enter in the passcode provided with the car, and the phone and car were bonded, and proceeded to download the phonebook from the phone to the car. Painless.

By then it was time for lunch, and my car was pulled out of the entrance foyer and out back to have the placard removed from the door. Due to the need to do this, I was unable to take many pictures of the car during delivery, but I did take many pictures right outside the Performance Center after I returned from the factory tour later that day.

For lunch, we were free to choose anything from the Performance Center cafeteria. I got pasta with meat sauce, some broccoli, a cheesecake, and a bottle of green tea. During lunch, one of the other owners mentioned that when he purchased his previous BMW 15 years ago, he was offered a chance to participate in some event in Connecticut, but couldn't remember where. I mentioned it might have been a driving event at Lime Rock. As I started to characterize LRP as a deceptively easy looking track, Ben jumped right in and said, "Yes, but it's not. It's very, very tricky." He said its relatively short length meant that any mistakes made were magnified.

I asked if he had any favorite courses. Ben paused to think for a moment, and answered Road America at Elkhart Lake. He also mentioned that VIR was a nice course as well. When the E90 owner (I'm horrible at remembering names) asked if he had any favorite NASCAR tracks, Ben winced and said "No, I'm really a road racer and prefer road courses." Bless him.

As we were finishing up lunch, Ben asked if anyone would like to take a "spirited run" around the test track (in red) with him at the wheel. Is the Pope catholic? We all finished up our lunches, and headed back outside, where Ben was waiting at the wheel of a Titanium Silver M3 w/Competition Package (ZCP). The E90 guy went first, and Ben pulled out of the parking area onto the track and dropped the hammer.

Holy *!@$#! It zoomed away with a burst of acceleration that was surprising to see first hand. In the blink of an eye, it had disappeared from sight, the right-hand side of the course being blocked by a Performance Center building. We could hear the revs drop a bit as they negotiated the curves, then build back up as it went down the back straight, coming back into our view going at least 100 mph. Then hard on the brakes as they entered the big skidpad for a revolution and a half of full-on drifting. You could hear the revs rise and drop and Ben controlled the drift with throttle and steering inputs. He then executed a 270 degree spin to line up with the skidpad exit, and powered tail-happy through the final turn, rear wheels spinning all the way. Here's a video of the last half of the run.

It got to be my turn, and I asked if I could record an in-car video of the ride with my camera. He said, "Tell you what: Let's do two runs, so you can fully experience the first, then you can tape the second." Fine by me, I put the camera down. DSC off, S6 selected, hammer down. HOLY #%!@%#@!!!! The in car feeling was more visceral than I could have imagined. Full-throttle S6 shifts at redline are just amazing to feel with the clutch slamming down hard and pushing you into the seat with each shift. Ben thread through cones set up for other courses like they weren't even there, and approached turns at some amazing speeds. Obviously putting on a show, he was sliding the tail out and drifting all over the place. Down the back straight and hard, HARD!, on the brakes into the skidpad. The drift around the skidpad felt sedate in comparison to the previous 15 seconds, but then he executed the 270 and the world spun until magically the exit appeared right in front of us. He gunned the throttle to take us out of the skidpad and through the final turn, tires howling all the way.

We then paused, and as I started to take my camera out, he said "Hold on. Put that camera away, let me show you something." He then did a Launch Control launch. Impressive, but he had to cut short the launch to still have room for the second run. Camera out, right arm bolstered against the door sill, videotaping. Off we went again, with me attempting to hold the camera relatively still. The resulting in-car video can be found here.

After the instructor hot laps, we said goodbye to Ben and got into our cars for the trip to the Zentrum and the factory tour, where our day was to end. Because they were still working on getting the placard out of my car, they gave me a Black Sapphire 645Ci to drive over there. We all followed Frederick in a Mystic Blue 645Ci as we headed out the Performance Center parking lot out onto SC-101 down to the Zentrum. As we drove through the factory/Zentrum parking lot, we followed Frederick as he pulled from the lot onto the wide sidewalk right next to the Zentrum, so we wouldn't have far to walk. BTW, the entire experience was like that: we were treated like VIPs, with everything being taken care of in a very professional way. Once inside, we were handed off to the factory tour guide. After handing in our digital cameras and phones, we were issued safety glasses and headsets from which we could hear the guide in the noisier sections of the factory.

The body shells and other metal forms are not produced on site at Spartanburg, but are subcontracted out to some other company in South Carolina. And the engines are made in Austria. But it is all painted and assembled at the Spartanburg plant, and we were able to see all the different production lines: painting, welding, powerplant/chassis marriage, interior assembly, testing. The testing was interesting to see. Each car is driven into a testing booth, kind of like an emissions testing station, where it undergoes a structured, simulated "road test" that exercises all elements of the drivetrain: engine, transmission, brakes, etc.

We also saw the vehicle prep area. We were told that Spartanburg acts as the VPC for 22 states: All of the southeast plus the midwest.

After the tour, I explored the exhibits in the Zentrum, taking pictures of a few cars, including a CSL 3.0, which is a spiritual ancestor of my car. (Note the side fender vent grills on both cars. Never noticed that before. Cool.)

I headed back to the Performance Center, to retrieve my now placard-less car, and to take a bunch of pictures now that I had the chance. I then drove back to the Zentrum to take yet more pictures.

Then my Performance Center Delivery experience was over. It was a blast, with the driving portions and the spirited run with Ben the instructor definitely the highlights. I highly recommend PCD to anyone who has the opportunity to do it. The only cost is getting yourself to Greenville/Spartanburg. Plus, you get the chance to fully experience your car on the drive back. For me, this meant driving the Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive as well as assorted other destinations on the way back. If you'd rather skip straight to the pictures, visit this photoset on Flickr.