Editorial: Hungary Gets on its Bike in Ride to the Top

Analysis

Photo by Blue Corner Studio / Shutterstock.com

We were recalling in the editorial office that old Hungarian joke about Kádár-era delays in the command economy.

Józsi bácsi has put down his deposit on a new Trabant and is told “Congratulations, it will be delivered in five years’ time!” Józsi looks a little concerned. “Could you make it in the afternoon? I have just booked the plumber for the morning.”

A five-year wait for a new car is, thankfully, a thing of the past. Even my dream car, the very British Morgan Plus Four, which is hand-built around an ash frame and used to have multiple-year waiting lists, is typically yours after between six and 12 months, on average, according to the company website.

But waiting times for more mass-produced vehicles have certainly been growing longer in recent months. A triple whammy of microchip shortages, supply chains disrupted by COVID shutdowns (Shanghai, the world’s biggest port and China’s financial capital is only now beginning a phased reopening after six weeks of lockdown), and the war in Ukraine have combined to make it pretty hard to get what you want when you want it, at least at the mass-market level.

As our article on page 18 points out, the wait for a Skoda Octavia (other makes and models are available), a typical company car, now routinely takes 16-18 months to be shipped. That is one of the reasons why what we used to call the used car market (it is probably something like “pre-loved” nowadays) has exploded. These are challenging times to be in the automotive business, something our newly formed government will presumably be keeping a somewhat anxious eye on, given the importance of the sector to the Hungarian economy.

That Hungary has been a good investment destination for automakers is not news, nor is the fact that the country has been able to ride the electromobility wave so adeptly that it has become a European stronghold for battery production. Its pedal power is, perhaps, less well known, but it was not by accident that the Grande Partenza (Grand Departure) of the Giro d’Italia was brought to Budapest this month.

According to Eurostat, Hungary ranks 13 in the EU regarding the number of bicycles manufactured, with tried and true Hungarian brands like Csepel now slugging it out with newer Magyar names like Neuzer, Gepida, and Accell Hunland. Taiwan-based Giant, the world’s largest bike producer, only has two factories in Europe, and one of those opened in Gyöngyös (80 km northeast of Budapest) with a EUR 48 mln investment in 2019. It is ramping up toward a target of one million units manufactured annually in a few years. The goal for Hungary is equally ambitious: it is targeting a top-five continental position as a bicycle maker. It’s time to get pedaling.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

This editorial was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 20, 2022.

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