SAE salary study shows mixed gains for automotive engineers

  • 08-Jun-2012 08:47 UTC

A plurality of engineers both in the U.S. and elsewhere fall into the salary category between $100,000 and $124,999.

Employment prospects and salaries have improved for the majority of automotive engineers since the end of the global recession, according to the recently released 2012 SAE International Salary Study. Whether one’s salary went up or down depends heavily on where one works.

Around the world, the mean salary of those in automotive engineering and related technical positions increased by a mean average of 3.4% in 2012, compared to 2.4% in 2010. In the U.S., the mean base salary for automotive engineers increased from $96,100 in 2010 to $103,400 in 2012, an improvement of 7.6%. They fared even better when taking into account supplemental cash income such as retirement plans, bonuses, commissions, profit sharing, and educational reimbursement, with total compensation rising from $107,000 in 2010 to $117,600 for an increase of 9.9%.

Outside of the U.S., automotive engineers saw their mean base salary fall 6.2%, from $74,000 in 2010 to $69,400 in 2012. During the same time, supplemental cash income increased from $7400 to $8100, resulting in a mean average total cash compensation for non-U.S. markets of $77,500 in 2012 for an overall decrease of 4.8%.

For the first time this year, SAE International is publishing salary data by country. Averaged across the three industries served by SAE (automotive, aerospace, and commercial vehicle), mobility engineers working in Germany are the highest-paid on average ($105,700), followed by those in the U.S. ($101,500), Australia ($98,900), Japan ($97,800), and Canada ($91,700).

The study also shows that, among other things, mobility professionals who are SAE International members in the U.S. make more on average than nonmembers ($102,300 vs. $101,500). Female mobility professionals that are also SAE International members working outside the U.S. make more than their nonmember associates ($86,500 vs. $85,500). Female mobility professionals in the U.S. continue to close the compensation gap with their male counterparts, with their mean salary increasing from $80,500 in 2010 to $91,600 in 2012.

Automotive professionals were asked to indicate what types of adversity their company had experienced in the past 12 months.

In 2012, 50% of automotive respondents from around the world said their company had implemented one of eight policies generally considered negative to employment conditions, such as hiring and pay freezes, layoffs, or forced time off. This is down from 80% in 2010. Unlike 2010, when layoffs were the most prevalent policy, hiring freezes are the most common today, accounting for 25% (down from 48% in 2010). Layoffs account for 17% (down from 52% in 2010), followed by pay freezes (17% in 2012, down from 40% in 2010), benefit reductions 16% (down from 33% in 2010), no bonus 9% (down from 33%), time off without pay 4% (down from 19%), and pay cuts only 2% (down from 22% in 2010).

For U.S. mobility engineers in general, 54% of full-time employees experienced one of eight changes, a decrease from 81% in 2010. Meanwhile, employees in Europe, Asia, Canada, and Central and South America say only 41.9% of their companies implemented one of the eight changes, down from 61.7% in 2010.

The 2012 SAE International Salary Study is the only survey of its kind to explore levels and changes in compensation and employment for technical employees in the automotive, aerospace, and commercial vehicle industries. This second biannual study is based on an email survey issued to 55,000 mobility engineers and related technical employees around the world. Survey recipients were both members and nonmembers of SAE International. They were asked 30 questions about their industry, company, educational backgrounds, job responsibilities, compensation, retirement, ethnicity, and more. Out of the initial sample, 5628 answered the survey, resulting in an optimal margin of error of ±1.3% with a 95% confidence level.

The full report and an online interactive salary calculator can be accessed for free at

An article published April 23 looks at the survey in broader terms across all vehicle sectors: automotive, aerospace, and commercial vehicle.

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