With all the fanfare surrounding the introduction of Ford Motor Co.'s Mondeo in Europe and the Contour/Mystique stateside, one might think that they were the first-ever world cars.

BMW AG likes to note that it has been building and selling cars around the globe for many years, although not with the kind of volume and differentiation of the Ford effort.

BMW's latest is the Z3 roadster, which will be assembled -- alongside the 3-Series -- in the German automaker's first North American plant in Spartanburg, SC. If you're a James Bond fan, you've probably already seen it in action: A Z3 provided basic transportation for 007 in the 1995 flick, GoldenEye, replacing a long line of Aaston Martins driven by an even longer line of 007s.

"The car was always planned and thought of as a world car," says Burt Holland, BMW's roadster product advocate, as are all of our products." But because the Z3 is being assembled in the U.S., a case can be made that this is more of a world car than previous BMW models.

As development began in the fall of 1992, airlines serving Munich had a lot of new business, Mr. Holland recalls. BMW's product and sales people flew around the world to take the pulse of primary automotive markets. Suppliers traveled to Germany and the automaker's new outpost in South Carolina. Marketing types conducted focus groups in Japan, the U.S., England and Germany. "There were a lot of people traveling a lot:' Mr. Holland recalls. "There is not a central guru of design, and it's not a stiff process. It's ongoing."

A lot of people were involved in the development of the Z3, notes Mr. Holland. "Most world-class design teams have people from all over the world," he adds. "It's hard to say it's a German design team." He says that even the Spartanburg factory workers were involved in the car's development; numerous prototypes were built in the facility.

"The engineering team spent a huge amount of time in the States," says Mr. Holland. "The sourcing team for this project is based in the U.S., and a lot of them are Americans."

The American influence on the vehicle is plainly visible. Every roadster comes equipped with a dual cupholder and coinholder. The third brake light is integrated into the rear deck and will be included on export models as well. About 60% of roadster production is destined for export markets, BMW says.

Using the film appearance and a special-edition offering in the 1995 Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book as a launch pad, nearly 8,000 orders (with deposits) were placed before production began in early February. The 100 Neiman-Marcus cars sold out within several hours after catalogs were delivered. Thousands of other folks asked to be put on a waiting list in case of cancellations.

If the Z3 lives up to early indications, BMW will credit its "rich heritage and the unique philosophy." One chapter of that philosophy is modular design and component commonization, which the rest of the industry is slowly adopting.

"Our system is modular, and each (BMW business unit selling the vehicle in different countries) has many selections of wheel designs, trim, interiors and colors," says Mr. Holland. "Anything from any car could go into any other car, with some modifications, of course. This modular approach makes us more flexible to adapt to mart needs."

One part of the roadster that is completely exclusive and will be the same everywhere it is sold is the exterior, which follows BMW's practice of an all-steel unitized structure. The body engineers at FIZ, BMW's Research and Engineering Center in Munich, applied their latest CAD/CAE techniques to achieve optimum structural rigidity while keeping weight moderate, says the automaker.

Another chapter of BMW's "global" philosophy is how it organizes its assembly plants around the world. "All of our plants create vehicles for the entire world," explains Mr. Holland. "We operate our factories as if they were one factory. And we have a couple of factories making the same thing." Except the Z3, which will only be assembled in Spartanburg.

BMW, says Mr. Holland, also uses a global philosophy with personnel maneuvers. "We've always had a lot of employee exchanges, so in terms of globalization, we're already there," he notes. "And we've been producing outside of Germany for a long, long time."

Although it'll be built in the U.S., the Z3 will feature the traditional "kidney" grille openings that identify the car as a BMW, yet in a way that the automaker calls "fresh, bold and dynamic." Large dual headlamps behind glass faces complete the classic look of the front end.

BMW traces the Z3's engineering heritage to the previous-generation BMW M3, a car that received rave reviews by both critics and enthusiasts. The Z3's combination of MacPherson struts and arc-shaped lower arms is an updated version of that M3's technology, and is shared with all current 3-Series models. The rear suspension is the semi-trailing-arm system from the previous M3.

The roadster's new 1.9L, 4-cyl. engine is the successor to the 1.8L powerplant of the current 318 models; its, major differences include an increase in displacement and a new valvetrain. This and other refinements result in increased torque, better low-to mid-range response and higher fuel economy, says BMW.

Like the present 318 and 325 models, the roadster offers a choice of 5-speed manual transmission or 4-speed automatic.

BMW says it has drawn upon proven systems that provide true BMW driving pleasure without undue complication. This, the company adds, has helped keep the roadster's price at $28,750, which it describes as "an attractive level."