7 jobs that can earn you a 6-figure salary in the $4 trillion auto industry


Range Rover Gerry McGovern

  • IBIS estimates that the global auto industry generates $4 trillion in annual revenue.
  • The industry employs almost 5.7 million people.
  • From dealerships to automakers to repair shops, high-earning jobs abound. 
  • We found seven careers that could lead to $100,000-and-above annual payouts.
  • These careers are also well-poised to benefit from a post-coronavirus rebound.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The global auto industry is, to be quite blunt, huge.

It generates trillions in annual revenue and keeps millions employed. 

The pay can also be pretty good. A unionized hourly worker at vehicle assembly plant in the US can bring home a mid-five-figure yearly total, and with seniority and overtime, get close to $100,000.

If you survey the entire industry, which supports everything from engineering to banking to insurance, you could easily find numerous six-figure salaries.

At the moment, with automakers enduring massive manufacturing shutdowns and undertaking layoffs to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, employment in the industry is in limbo. But demand for cars isn’t likely to vanish, so these careers remain good bets.

Here’s a sampling:

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F&I manager — $133,000

“F&I” is auto-industry shorthand for “finance and insurance.” If you’ve ever bought or leased a vehicle from an auto dealer, you’ve most likely interacted with an F&I professional. They’re the last stage in the purchasing process, where you’re walked through the details of your lease or loan, warranty, given the opportunity to buy into extras that are dealership-exclusive, deal with local DMV regulations and paperwork, and can have insurance coverage arranged.

Sometimes, your dealer will introduce you to an F&I staffer during the buying process to review lease and loan options. The dealership, if it’s franchised to sell major brands (Toyota, Ford, Cadillac, Mercedes, and so on), should have access to an automaker’s captive-finance arm, as well as a bunch of banks that can make loans to buyers of varying creditworthiness.

Almost nobody walks into a dealership with bag of cash, so an F&I manager has a very big job: he or she needs to figure how people from all walks of life can get across the car-buying/leasing finish line.

Dealers make money from selling cars, but they make their real profits acting as loan brokers, insurance brokers, and by selling things like extended warranties to customers. That’s why the F&I manager is well compensated — NADA reckons on average almost $133,000 a year — and often has received special training or a certification.

Car designer — $100,000

The range is what one might expect here: designers at the beginning of their careers make less than six figures, but the pay is still good, in the mid-fives.

Once you get some seniority, six figures is in sight. And if you become a major name in the field or oversee all design operations for a large automaker, you can rack up a lot more than $100,000.

An experienced designer at a top auto brand should spend his or her days dealing with a team of fellow designers, meeting with the engineers who are determining how a vehicle is going to get built, and spending a lot of time sketching ideas, refining those ideas using computers drafting programs, and in some cases creating physical clay models and even making full-size “tape” drawings on walls. And not all designers work on exteriors — everything from seats to sun visors also have to be developed.

Most car designers have graduated from a transportation-design program, such as the one at California’s Art Center College of Design, whose alumni include Tesla’s Franz von Holzhausen, Acura’s Michelle Christensen, and the controversial Chris Bangle, formerly of BMW.

Mechanical engineer — $120,000

Becoming an engineer has always been a great path to a good starting salary. But if you stick with the gig and labor in, say, the Detroit area for General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, you could expect to hit $120,000 if you achieve some seniority. (The BLS reports that the top 10% can earn almost $137,000.)

By that point, you won’t be tinkering with turbochargers any longer, but rather overseeing a group of tinkerers.

Keep at it and satisfy the boss’ demands and you could become the boss yourself. Then you become a manager and might be assigned an entire vehicle to launch. At a company such as Ford, high-pressure engineering roles involve new Mustangs and pickup trucks.

Engineers typically have four-year degrees from colleges that are known for feeding into the car business, but grad-school isn’t a requirement. Often, however, those with their sights on becoming executives will get MBAs.

Electrical engineer — $100,000

The median salary for an electrical engineer is about $95,000, so more senior folks could easily top $100,000.

Demand for electrical engineers should dramatically increase in the coming decade as automakers shift from internal-combustion powerplants to EVs. The industry already employs electrical engineers, but going forward, battery designs and electric propulsion are going to require additional talent.

The relative simplicity of EVs compared to gas vehicles doesn’t mean they aren’t complicated in   other ways. Tesla, for example, has battery packs that require thousands of lithium-ion cells, all wired together and managed with software.

Master mechanic — $100,000

Becoming a professional gearhead is actually not a bad career move, as skilled mechanics can make $40-50,000 annually.

But as with other jobs in the rundown, the more experience and expertise you amass, the more you get paid. Master mechanics who have some years under their tool belts and have been trained and certified for complicated service and repair procedures are in demand and can command $100,000-and-up wages.

College degrees aren’t requires, and shortage of mechanics has some vocational schools stressing the potentially big-time paydays for trained mechanics.


Software developer — $110,000

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median yearly salary for a software developer is $110,000. And while you might think that the auto industry needs mechanical engineers more than folks who can wrangle code, you’d be mistaken.

In fact, as cars become more and more like rolling computers, and as companies such as Cruise, Waymo, and Tesla strive to crack the challenge of autonomous vehicles, a massive talent hunt is on in the world’s auto capitals to hire software engineers.

Some professionals could be trying to teach cars to drive themselves, but others could spend their days developing testing programs, supporting manufacturing teams and robotics efforts, or figuring out new ways to provide wireless connectivity to vehicles.

Supply chain manager — $116,000.

In the good old days, trains loaded with iron ore would roll up to one side of Ford’s famous River Rouge factory and finished cars would roll out the other side.

But ever since the 1980s, such highly vertical manufacturing has been supplanted by so-called “lean” or “just in time” systems, with parts arriving as they’re needed rather than being stockpiled in inventory.

To make this process work for companies that do business around the world, the supply chain manager has entered the picture and taken on a critically important role. So important that various salary-tracking websites rank this job as one of the industry’s best-paying.

A degree in lots of fields can get you started, but areas such as business administration, math, economics, engineering, or science should expose you to the level of detail and organization you’d need to thrive in supply chain management.