Does an afternoon of special access to BMW North America’s newest Vehicle Distribution Center (VDC) sound like a dream? Yeah, I thought so too. Well, on May 6th, 2022, that dream came true for nearly 140 BMW CCA members thanks to the passion and hard work of a number of key players from our beloved National Capital and M Chapters, BMW of North America (BMW NA), and the VDC in Baltimore, Maryland.
The VDC is not a place where you can simply arrive and request a tour, so an invitation is a rare and exciting opportunity for the public. In addition to the attendance from our local NCC crew in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia, CCA members from the non-geographic M Chapter traveled from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan for the experience—and they were not disappointed!
BMW NA and the VDC pulled out all the stops to put on a fantastic program for its guests, which included transporting a number of special vehicles to the VDC just for this event. How special? Well, a Jeff Koons M850i Gran Coupe was on display. It’s one of just 99 examples worldwide. The design is actually painted on the car; it’s not a wrap. As it was explained, there are 11 layers of paint that take hundreds of hours to apply. It’s a stunning car and was a fitting centerpiece for group photos of VDC staff and event organizers.
There were a number of armored X5s on display. They looked fairly pedestrian at a glance, but once you opened a door you realized it was significantly heavier than a regular X5’s door. The glass is one-inch thick and there’s armor plating throughout the vehicle. There are a number of safety controls in place of the cupholder. These trucks are just plain cool.
A beautiful Frozen Deep Green Metallic M5 CS joined the party. An M240i, a pair of G80 M3s, an M4 convertible, another M5, an M8, a 7 Series, and a few MINIs also caught my attention in the petrol-powered vehicle category. In the electric category there were a pair of i4s and an iX. BMW Motorrad brought its first M motorcycle, the M 1000 RR. There were also a pair of engines on stands: an S68 with cutaways and a running S38 (the first M engine in the United States in the 1980s)! It was an impressive array of hardware, assembled and transported to the VDC just for our event.
As guests arrived, they helped themselves to an assortment of food and beverages in a well-equipped break room. Once everyone made their way to the main processing floor, NCC President and East Coast Governor of the M Chapter, Paul Seto, and VDC Manager, Angela Adams-Bauer, addressed the group. Introductions were made and the schedule and format of the program was presented.
The program itself was broken into three separate sections. BMW NA’s M Brand and Product Managers, Tim O’Brien and John Kelly, were there to discuss BMW M. BMW NA’s Eastern Region Technical Training Manager, Cesar Castaneda, and BMW NA’s Product & Technology Communications Manager, Jay Hanson, were there for show and tell with BMW new electric vehicles, the i4s and iX. And VDC associates Aisha Holmes and Timothy Johnson walked everyone through the phases of the VDC process.
I joined Tim O’Brien and John Kelly’s group first. They kicked things off by talking about the M brand and the differences between M Performance vehicles and M vehicles. They fielded questions from the group, which involved topics like BMW’s acquisition of Alpina, manual versus automatic transmissions, and use of all-wheel drive in M vehicles. Tim and John also focused on the M5 CS on display, speaking to its dynamics, differentiality, and exclusivity. Adam Sacher from BMW Motorrad showcased the M 1000 RR motorcycle and answered the group’s questions.
Next I joined the group led by Inspector/Installer Aisha Holmes and Bodyshop Technician Timothy Johnson who gave a guided tour of the VDC’s intake and inspection process of vehicles arriving on ships at the nearby dock. As BMW NA’s newest VDC, it began processing its first vehicles in early October of 2021. The official grand opening took place on February 7th, 2022. The state-of-the-art facility has a large, open, indoor area where the vehicles are driven through. There are offices and break rooms adjacent to the large vehicle processing area. Despite the event taking place on a water-logged Friday, the weather wasn’t of consequence as we were inside such a beautifully built complex, completely shielded from the elements.
As Aisha and Timothy relayed, the intake and inspection process begins at Q Gate. Vehicles that have minor damage are sent to Level 1 for quick fixes such as touch-ups of scratches or minor wet-sanding and polishing. Vehicles requiring accessory installation, such as performance exhausts, are sent to the Mech Shop. Vehicles having more damage are sent to the fully equipped body shop.
There was a fully loaded M8 in the process of being repaired in the body shop. As Timothy told the story, this M8 was parked next to a light pole in the parking lot. A bird built a large nest on top of the light pole, which fell onto the M8 during a windstorm, scratching and denting some of the panels. Timothy joked that while the M8 could no longer be sold to a customer which would cause some disappointment, but after it was repaired it would certainly make a BMW VP happy as it becomes part of the corporate fleet.
For the last part of the program, I listened to Cesar Castaneda and Jay Hanson give overviews and take questions on BMW’s new electric vehicles, the i4 and iX. The i4 50 is quite the performer! They are just as impressive in real life as they are on paper. These are part of BMW’s current Ultimate Driving Experience roadshow.
Time went by quickly and there was never a dull moment. Everywhere you turned there was something unique to look at, and there was someone from BMW NA to engage in conversation. As the event wrapped up, it was interesting to hear CCA members, BMW NA reps, and VDC staff talk about their favorite parts of the afternoon.
John Kelly, BMW NA’s M Product Manager, said, “I was excited to have so many people [who are] passionate about the brand visiting the VDC for this event.”
Scott Santos, an inspector/installer at the VDC and a BMW CCA member, was on photography duty for this event. (Check out his work on Instagram: @scottrsantos). Scott said that his favorite part was “having NCC BMW CCA at the VDC. It’s a rare opportunity for the public to be here and it’s great to have everyone see our facility, processes, and what we do. I spend 40 hours a week here and I love every minute of it.”
NCC member Thomas Setz said that he really enjoyed seeing both the M5 CS and Jeff Koons M850i, as they are “rare, special cars that you just don’t get to see every day.” He added, “It was great to talk to the VDC employees. It’s clear they are passionate about what they do. It’s a really great facility.”
Margaret Hartka enjoyed the “assurance of seeing how much care the BMW employees put into inspections and preparing the cars.” Jeff Ramage enjoyed hearing representatives from BMW NA talk about their electric cars, saying that “One of their priorities for the new electric cars is that they drive like a BMW. BMW buyers expect a level of performance, and the new cars deliver.” Marlon Spencer appreciated “listening to employees and how passionate they are about their jobs.” He added, “Getting insight into how the employees are integrated into the ideology of the company and that you are really getting what you pay for” were aspects of the event that he liked.
John Hargte recalled the last time something like this happened was in 2008 at the VDC in New Jersey, although that event was devoted to VDC operation. He said, “My personal favorite item was the working S38 engine on the display stand. The fellow tasked with pulling it out of storage and showing it explained he had to change the oil and gas to make sure taht it would start and run. The S38 is the first BMW M six-cylinder sold in the U.S. It was in the M5 I owned for many years, so it brought back good memories. It looked like a proper engine, all metal, with ‘BMW M Power’ cast into the aluminum valve cover.”
With CCA members, BMW NA representatives, and VDC staff all so passionate about BMWs, it’s no wonder why this event was such a success, though success just didn’t fall out of the sky or happen overnight. There was a great deal of persistence, planning, and that’s right, more passion, that brought this event to fruition.
NCC president and East Coast governor of the M Chapter Paul Seto was the driving force behind BMW NA and CCA uniting for this event. “This event was over eight years in the making,” says Seto. “What really solidified BMW NA getting fully on board was our M Chapter discussions during O’Fest 2021 and planning the Amelia Island Concours event in early 2022. Working directly with Hagerty and Tom Plucinsky’s team, Alex Schmuck and Jay Hanson, we were able to put together a big celebration at the Amelia Island Concours for the 50th anniversary of BMW M. We provided a turnkey solution and accomplished securing 50 CCA cars onto the show field with representation of almost every M car produced. Needless to say, we crushed that event. I got their go-ahead for the VDC event, and they put me in touch with Tim O’Brien, BMW NA’s M-brand manager. We discussed several format possibilities and even met with other BMW executives at the Daytona 24 Hours race, including Frank van Meel, CEO of BMW M, and Timo Reach, VP of Sales/Brand of BMW M. At the end of the day, Alex and Tim were the two pushing for this event, and their support to provide the M and EV product expertise solidified the format.”
The new BMW car by Jeff Koons made an appearance.
So there you have it: a little “Behind the Music” regarding this epic event. A heartfelt thanks goes out for the hard work, support, and zeal of Paul Seto, Tim O’Brien, John Kelly, Cesar Castaneda, Adam Sacher, Jay Hanson, Angela Adams-Bauer, Allison Geho, Tony Santos, Tracey Davis, the VDC staff supporting the event, NCC volunteers, and everyone else involved with turning this dream into a reality—Mike Bevels, National Capital Chapter