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Automotive engineering: industry sector overview

Automotive engineering: industry sector overview

As an engineer working in the automotive industry you must meet customer expectations of your brand’s look and feel as well as technical performance.

The automotive sector encompasses both design and manufacturing. It is a global industry, in which the UK is a key player – it is the second largest producer of luxury vehicles, behind Germany. Companies must deliver customer expectations of the brand in question, including aesthetics, smell and feel as well as technical performance, and know how these are changing around the world. They must also comply with different countries’ regulatory requirements, such as those concerning safety and CO2 emissions.

Employers in the UK include suppliers, such as GKN, Bosch and ZF, and automotive companies, such as Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Bentley and BMW. Of these, some conduct both design and manufacturing work here, while others manufacture in the UK but have their main engineering function overseas.

Trends and developments in the automotive industry

Modern vehicles are highly reliant on electronics and software. In particular, in the premium automotive sector customer expectations regarding infotainment systems have increased dramatically, creating demand for gaming, graphics and software knowledge as well as engineering expertise. Reducing carbon emissions is another key focus, for example increasing efficiency by decreasing a vehicle’s weight through use of lightweight materials such as aluminium and composites.

What it's like working in automotive engineering

The industry is fast-paced – a vehicle can progress from initial concept to driving off the production line in around four years, helped in part by extensive use of computer modelling and simulation. As vehicles are such complex systems, engineers work as part of large teams. They typically also interact with suppliers and with colleagues in non-engineering roles such as finance, purchasing or HR. In some cases they may have contact with dealership staff or customers to run focus groups, or with third-party suppliers of customer surveys. The role can involve some travel, including potentially overseas, though it is unlikely to be constant.

Getting a graduate job in automotive engineering

Formal graduate schemes are a common entry route. Later, engineers can decide whether to pursue a career path in a very technical role or in project management or people management.

The highlights of a career in automotive engineering

  • Working with engineers from the huge range of disciplines that contribute to automotive design.
  • Melding creative design and aesthetics with engineering.
  • The fast pace of the industry.

The automotive industry seeks graduates in

  • aerospace/aeronautical
  • automotive
  • chemical
  • control
  • electrical
  • electronics
  • environmental
  • instruments
  • manufacturing
  • materials
  • mathematics
  • mechanical
  • physics
  • power systems
  • software
  • telecoms

Always check individual employers’ requirements.

Thanks to Jo Lopes, FIET FIMechE, for his help with this article. Jo is head of technical excellence at Jaguar Land Rover. He has a BSc and MPhil in applied physics from the University of Wolverhampton and has worked in the automotive industry for 25 years.