Construction sites as far as the eye can see, factories springing up from the ground in record time, thousands of workers brought from all over the world to work 24 hours a day to advance construction… No city in Europe is currently changing so quickly thanks to shift in electric mobility as Debrecen, Hungary.

Second city in this Central European country, the city located two and a half hours drive east of Budapest plans to create more than 15,000 jobs within a few years, to produce cars on hundreds of hectares electrics in a state-of-the-art BMW factory and batteries for the Chinese giant CATL.

This spectacular boom in a city that until now had been a little sleepy has become the best symbol of Viktor Orban’s dream of making his country “a superpower” in electric mobility by taking advantage of the European decision to stop the sale of electric vehicles in 2035. new thermal cars.

Accumulated expertise

“We were already the fourth largest battery producer in the world in 2022,” says Peter Kaderjak, president of the Hungarian Battery Association, a growing organization based in brand new offices on the banks of the Danube, with a big smile. According to projections from the European Court of Auditors, Hungary is expected to be the second largest battery producer in Europe by 2030, with an annual production capacity of between 178 and 188 gigawatt hours, or around 3.5 million batteries. of 50 kilowatt hours. It is certainly behind Germany, but far ahead of its usual regional competitors, such as the Czech Republic, or even a large country like France.

“We will perhaps have a quarter of the European production capacity even though we are a very small country”, celebrates this former Secretary of State of Viktor Orban, listing the economic explanatory factors of this success: “Hungary welcomes already the three main German automobile producers, we have good infrastructure and fairly inexpensive labor. »

With already around 5% of its GDP depending on the automobile and 150,000 employees in the sector, Hungary benefits from its expertise accumulated since its accession to the European Union in 2004, an enlargement which has made all Central Europe the backbone of the German automobile industry. But, from now on, Budapest is counting above all on Asian capital, particularly Chinese capital, to win the electric battle.

Hungary’s first battery factory was opened there in 2017 by Korea’s Samsung and already has a capacity of almost 40 gigawatt hours. In Debrecen, the Chinese CATL has promised to eventually build the largest battery factory in Europe, with an announced capacity of 100 gigawatt hours. And in December 2023, BYD, Tesla’s main competitor globally, in turn announced that it had chosen Szeged, in the south of Hungary, to open its first electric car factory on the Old Continent, at the expense of French hopes.