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‘In Automotive Projects, Only Change is Permanent.’

Automotive

Géza Germán

Two of the leading architects and project managers from Óbuda Group talk exclusively with the Budapest Business Journal about what sets the firm apart in serving the automotive field.

If you are a highly competent Hungarian architectural and engineering firm looking to cash in on the international FDI wave sweeping Hungary right now, the number one attribute is probably not only your technical expertise, but the ability to communicate and navigate cultural differences.

“I tell my colleagues the key to success in a project is communication because it’s really not enough that you just know the language, and that is what makes a difference,” explains Sándor Benkei, technical director of Óbuda Group’s project management firm. “If I say ‘design concept,’ it means something different in Germany than in Poland, for example. And if you don’t have experience with foreign clients, then it will be challenging working with them,” he adds.

It is a sentiment that the architectural studio’s managing director, Géza Germán, fully endorses. The two men have the better part of six decades of experience between them, including time spent abroad and working for foreign companies.

“We are very open-minded and have international experience in all aspects of a real estate project. You are talking with two engineers capable of adapting to any situation. I think this is our strongest point in the market,” says Germán.

Put another way, they have seen a lot of different international approaches to architectural engineering problems. That knowledge is stored away, ready to be called upon, but they have also distilled it into one fundamental lesson.

“If a client is bringing some very special solution that does not fit the European requirements, we do not say ‘No.’ We offer solutions for how they can adapt the new technology, system or equipment to Hungary and European norms,” Germán explains.

“Already with European and American partners, a lot of adaptability and attention was needed, but with Asia, it is different again,” Benkei agrees.

Sándor Benkei

Understanding the Mindset

“We Europeans have to learn. We need to understand a different mindset. That’s why we hold regular events with international clients, where we try to show how to do it better based on the experience of previous investments,” he says.

“My favorite example is how the Chinese [visually] count to 10 on one hand. When we show ‘two’ [with thumb and index finger], it means ‘eight’ to a [mainland] Chinese person. Such misunderstandings must be dealt with somehow,” Benkei adds.

The two experts recall when Hungary began to open up and the first wave of Japanese and, most especially, German automotive OEMs started to arrive. Germán called it a “golden time” when new technologies, knowledge, and culture were imported into the country. Some may see today’s wave of Chinese and Korean investors as offering an easy repeat run; after all, the fundamentals of a factory are still four walls and a roof.

But the Hungary of 1989 and 2024 aren’t just separated by time (“Do you remember before 1990? You could choose from five different models of car, and that was it!”), but also by technology. The insulation and cladding on those four walls must meet completely different standards. The buildings’ roof will probably need to accommodate solar panels. And today’s buildings, their construction and surroundings face increasing ESG regulation.

That would be true for pretty much any factory, of course. What separates the automotive industry from most others is the scope of tasks expected to be completed on one site.

“They have to stamp the body, then they have the welding shop, the paint shop, the bumper shop where they make molded plastic, and after that they have assembly. These five shops all have different types of machines and technologies. So, if we are designing a car manufacturing plant, this is a very complex project,” says Germán.

It doesn’t stop there. Depending on location, there could be a requirement for rail, road or river connections, even a private landing strip, plus logistics facilities, health and safety sections that may include fire-fighting facilities or a medical clinic, and so on.

With the original wave of combustion engine-powered cars being replaced with EVs, Benkei makes the point that automotive plants are expected to evolve much more than standard industrial units.

The Only Constant

“I was visiting the Pick factory in Szeged not so long ago. The whole value of the brand is that it has been made in the same way for 100 years,” he says. “In automotive projects, only change is permanent.”

He gives a recent example. When the car body shell is brought to the chassis section for the two to be “married up,” it is transported via an overhead conveyor belt. The shell is lowered over the chassis, the two attached, and the combined unit is lifted back up and moved on to the next stage. The same system was used with conventionally powered cars, but today’s EVs have the battery already in place in the chassis.

“Because of this battery, which is 200-300 kgs, the load on the conveyors was so significantly changed that we had to put additional support and stiffening in the roof; we virtually had to rebuild the roof,” Benkei explains.

The extra weight of those batteries is not their only drawback. “Range anxiety,” the worry about how far you can go on a single charge, remains a genuine concern for some, and the relatively high inflation environment has led many would-be buyers to postpone new vehicle purchases.

Germán says that improvements will come. German manufacturers are still keen on driving innovation, if you will pardon the pun, while Chinese manufacturers seem pretty happy to add new technologies almost as soon as they appear.

“Personally, I am very much looking forward to the arrival of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV). If the issue of safe storage is resolved, then I think it could lead to an interesting competition against EVs with the rapid transformation of charging networks,” Germán says. “It’s like the battle between Betamax and VHS tapes,” he adds.

One thing is certain: whichever technology wins out, Óbuda Group will be ready to help design, consult, manage and supervise the realization of the factories that will help make it happen, wherever they are based and whoever the investor.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 14, 2024.

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