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Automotive Engineering Jobs: Where are they now?

I am in college pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. Since starting college I have become obsessed with watching and rewatching every episode of Top Gear, which has set my interest in the mechanical workings of cars on fire. Mechanical Engineering is an enormously flexible degree, but I am feeling inclined to investigate whether automotive engineering is the field I want to pursue.

BUT. Frankly, I have not been impressed with domestic car companies. This is probably colored a bit by the British perspective from Top Gear, but my family’s experience has been that Japanese cars are FAR more reliable and durable. And it seems that it is companies like BMW and Volvo are the ones who are on the cutting edge of technology. Not to mention that their business practices mean I am now saddled with quite a bit of debt as a taxpayer. But mostly, I am not eager to move to Detroit. The city has been in decline for a long time now, and I hope to raise a family one day.

So my question is, what are the job opportunities in the United States working for a ‘foreign’ company like Toyota, BMW, etc? The car parts supply chain for all these companies is scattered worldwide. Is the same true for their engineering design jobs?

Many foreign manufacturers now have robust up & running manufacturing facilities in states other than Michigan. Google can easily help you find them.

All manufacturers’ supply chains are now scattered worldwide. There was a time many years ago when it was difficult working with scattered suppliers. Designs were hand drawn and design packages had to be mailed via snail-mail, design changes common when producng new product had to be done by mail, parts problems had to be understood by failure reports (mailed) and voice conversations on the phone (no graphics), engineering change orders had to wait for tyhe mail…working with remote suppliers was extremely difficult.

Nowadays, design documents and packages are digitized. They can be sent back and forth instantly during the process of a teleconference. Explanations can be given and questions answered on whiteboards, smartboards, or other graphic technology right during the teleconference. Engineering changes can be done in nanoseconds.

Automotive ME jobs are hard to come by. Although that may change with the automotive sales drastically increasing this year.

Many companies from the US and Japan have opened campuses in India and China. Cheap well educated labor force. There are jobs here in the US, but no where near as many as there use to be.

I’ll have to check with my Daughter about this kid she went to MIT with. This kid was majoring in ME. When I met him he was 15 and in his sophomore year at MIT. He showed me a carburetor he designed and built from scratch. Even used a CNC machine to cut out the base. Not sure if it worked…but it was a beautiful site. He tried to explain to me how it worked…but it was well beyond my understanding.

All the mechanical engineering that needs to be done HAS been done…The fine-tuning is done by computer programs… True, a handful of specialists are needed to fine-tune high-tech engine and transmission designs, but the heavy lifting has been done… In the automotive field, your job would be “How can we do this job faster and cheaper, using fewer parts…”

You need to get in touch with your department’s placement office and see how much the various car companies recruit at your campus. There’s LOTS of engineering to be done, all using computers.

And regarding Top Gear, I used to make the mistake to take it seriously, but the outrageous stuff they’d pull convinced me it is an entertainment show, pure and simple.

Today US cars are the technical and quality equal of all cars.

Top Gear is an entertainment show only. There is some truth to a lot of what they do but humor is the objective. You should also consider the array of cars they drive and own.
If you saw the episode where the Ford F150 pickup was ripped because of a plastic and ill-fitting dash keep the following in mind. There was nothing said about whether this truck was new or well used and you cannot compare a ho-hum assembly line vehicle to a high end car like an Aston or Bentley.

If management told you as an auto engineer that a 25k dollar pickup was going to have to be fitted with full leather interior, burnished walnut trim, meticulously assembled and balanced engine, along with the liberal use of brass and billet materials from stem to stern how would you ever meet that 25k dollar benchmark? Simple; you can’t at that price and it’s unlikely that anyone would cough up 150 grand for a Ford pickup.

I assure you the Japanese car engineers also come up with a lot of those WTH were they thinking moments.
Consider Recalls, TSBs, and an assortment of knick-knack warranty repairs for a moment. Some of those are caused by the assembly process; the vast majority are due to engineering flaws. Do a net search on any car or peruse ALLDATA and ponder the Recalls and TSBs that are listed; not even getting into the multitude of things that are not listed under a Recall or TSB.

Automotive engineers are not always well though of by mechanics for several reasons.
One is that the mechanics in the field are the ones having to wrestle those WTH moments that the engineers created. Two is that an engineer gets paid X guaranteed dollars per year to design things, often with problems, and the mechanics who work on flat rate are the ones who have to sort it all out either on a deeply discounted labor rate or for free.

  1. Korea
  2. India
  3. China

Are you prepared to spend most of the rest of your life in school?
The automotiver industry is constantly changing and you’ll need to adapt with it or be out of a job rather quickly.

You might consider working for an auto company or major supplier that offers a co-op program. The program pays for your work (not spectacularly), counts towards your degree, and the company usually will hire you when you graduate. Everyone wins.

@bscar2 - Are you prepared to spend most of the rest of your life in school?
The automotiver industry is constantly changing and you’ll need to adapt with it or be out of a job rather quickly.

Most engineering jobs are changing constantly. Try computer science!!! It’s completely different with completely different languages programming styles and tools then it was just 10 years. ago. Constantly evolving. EE has changed drastically over the past 20 years.

A few points -

  1. Specializing in Automotive Engineering is a bad idea, IMO. You can always get a job in the auto industry with an ME degree, but you may find it difficult to get a job in a non-automotive field with a specialization in Automotive engineering.

  2. Don’t believe what you see on Top Gear. It is entertainment, pure and simple. Fantastic entertainment, IMO, but it is NOT a reliable source of all things automotive (BTW, they do give very good marks to many Fords for their chassis engineering). Personally, I wouldn’t want to get involved with Chrysler, but Ford and GM have quite a bit of advanced cutting edge work going on. Just because you don’t hear about it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

  3. In terms of advanced development, you’re many times more likely to find a job at GM, Ford, or Chrysler than at any import brand. Chrysler alone has more engineers in the US than all the import brands combined. The import brands have some limited work going on in the US, but they’re focused primarily on product and manufacturing support, not advanced development. What little work is going on in development is still secondary to their primary work elsewhere. And to throw in a kicker, Toyota’s more advanced work is done in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You’re basically in the same location as GM, Ford, and Chrysler then. Remember, none of those three have their engineering facilities in Detroit - they’re all in the suburbs, and some of those suburban areas of Detroit are VERY nice.

  4. There is a LOT of high tech work done at the Big 3 - they’re just not noisy about it because of US patent laws - I’ve personally worked with some of them on projects that took 10+ years to make it to the market after I was in on them, and they still beat the import brands by a few years.

  5. Don’t get wrapped up in the “sexy” jobs. You’re more likely going to be mentally stimulated by challenging work, regardless of what the product is, and you’ll find that challenging work more rewarding. Caddyman seems a little down on the “faster, cheaper” type of work, but there’s little reason for that, IMO. In my career, I’ve worked on engineering for 737s, 777s, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, GM, Honda, and Nissan products, MEMS switches, the Joint Strike Fighter, and several interplanetary spacecraft (among others). Today I work on mass-market consumer products, trying to wring out an additional 3-4% cost savings, improve performance, etc… There is no comparison in terms of the challenge - this is much more difficult (and rewarding) work, though it would certainly not be considered “sexy”…

(and as ok4450 points out, the Japanese manufacturers certainly have their WTH moments. Working on my 98 Camry recently, I discovered that they had essentially 6 different brake systems on that car, depending on engine type, location of final assembly, and date of manufacture. I had a rarer combination, which resulted in requesting a bizarre mish-mash of parts from the parts store that would actually fit and work on the car. It wasn’t a simple case of requesting parts for a 4 cylinder 1998 camry. I had to buy some parts labeled as a 4 cylinder 98, some as a 6 cylinder 98, and some labeled as a 4 cylinder 99)

Mechanical Engineering is an enormously flexible degree, but I am feeling inclined to investigate whether automotive engineering is the field I want to pursue

More flexible than you may realize. Just the phrase “automotive engineering” has so many facets it begs the question, what do YOU want to do?

Realize that in any complex machinery, there are hundreds of specialized design fields. You could spend your entire career ensconced in one area or spend the entire time moving around and not work in every area.

Did you realize there are major, distinctly different groups of engineering discipline; research, development and manufacturing engineering? Each has its challenges and in some cultures, the manufacturing engineers are more highly revered and compensated! Some businesses like to lump R&D together but they are distinctly different when it comes to the type of work and timelines.

To illustrate my point, consider the varied demands required of a ME designing body panels and tooling versus engines, transmissions, suspension components, enclosures, interior, test fixturing and the list goes on significantly.

Performing FEA alone (thermal, shock and vibe, structural, etc) would be a career path where you could be involved across the board. But you’re likely to be engaged with a particular team associated with some sub-part of the whole and they do not have to be located anywhere near the manufacturing facilities if you’re in research or development engineering.

One of my neighbors is an engineering major at Purdue, and she has an internship this summer at an auto parts manufacturer in Indianapolis. Apparently there are jobs available. You should talk to your professors and counseling dept at your college to see if they have any leads. If you are a long way from traditional auto manufacturing centers, you might consider contacting the manufacturers to see if they have intern programs or how to qualify for a job at their facility after you graduate.

If you want to break into the auto business, you might have more luck pursuing a job as a manufacturing engineer rather than a design engineer. Any auto factory including the import brands here in the US will employ a small army of manufacturing engineers to keep things running, manage model changeovers and to always pursue better and cheaper ways of making things. This could give you an entry to make the change later to design if that is what you want. I suggest that you contact the S.A.E. to see what they could do to help you in addition to contacting an auto company before you graduate. Look into an engineering Co-op job or a summer vacation job. That also can lead to a permanent job. An ME or EE degree could very well do for you but a degree in Industrial Engineering could be appropriate too.


The biggest hurdle for getting more and more cost effective and such is that you can only improve so much before you hit a wall. You could get a 90% rate one year, then a 93%, then 95%, then 99%, but you can only go so far before you’re essentially running around with your head cut off trying to squeeze more out of things that can’t be squeezed anymore

Here is some new info; I hope that the OP is still looking.

I am glad to hear that working for the american car companies is not so bad as I originally thought. Sounds to me like just about anything is possible. I think a more generic ME degree sounds like the best after reading the comments, with some extra electronics controls and such because they are fun and useful.

As for Top Gear, it certainly does lack badly in the more technical details I would love to know about, no denying that. Guess the car industry is just too big and complex to even make a blanket statement about foreign vs domestic companies. Except perhaps for Toyota and Honda being top notch in reliability.

" Except perhaps for Toyota and Honda being top notch in reliability."

Check out the Warranty Week article in the first post on this other thread. You will find that Toyota is so far behind, that they should be mentioned in the same breath as VW, Yes, it includes the astronomical recall costs that Toyota incurred in recent years, but wasn’t that essentially warranty work? The Big 3 in reliability are now Honda, Ford and GM.

<b.The Big 3 in reliability are now Honda, Ford and GM.

Says ONE person based on ONE source…No thank you…

An engineering degree is a wise decision and if you’re seriously considering automotive, especially BMW, you should look into Clemson’s I-CAR. A joint project between Clemson, BMW, Timkin, Michelin, etc. (all of whom have plants in the area) to develop the future talent and vehicles.
But remember it’s very competitive so wherever you’re at, hit those books hard.