What is automobile engineering?
Automobile engineering is the field of engineering which deals with the development of mostly land mobility vehicles like cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles etc. It is an interdisciplinary branch of engineering which contains elements of mechanical, electrical, electronics, software engineering meshed into it. Whichever fields of study required to design, develop, test, manufacture and maintain a vehicle are incorporated into automobile engineering.
Developing a vehicle is a research-intensive process that includes designing, prototyping, testing, concept to the production-ready stage where the vehicle is manufactured in large numbers. Some of the subjects which are taught in automobile engineering are vehicle powertrains, vehicle dynamics, suspension systems, automotive transmission, chassis design, CAD modelling, computer-controlled vehicle systems, vehicle design, automotive aerodynamics, automotive safety, automobile maintenance etc. Automobile Engg. students are also taught the basics of material science, metallurgy, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, electrical circuitry, rubber science, solid mechanics etc.
What are the skills required to become an automobile engineer?
An automobile engineer should have good technical knowledge about working on any kind of vehicle. He should have a clear understanding of the working of the components that are incorporated inside a vehicle.
Also, you should have the proper know-how about maintaining a vehicle or be able to access the condition of a particular vehicle through its exhaust sound, the colour of smoke, engine vibration etc.
Internal combustion engine vehicles have a lot of moving parts while running like Pistons, camshaft, flywheel, alternator, connecting rod, crankshaft, transmission, suspension, wheels etc. Any one of these parts could malfunction because of a variety of reasons.
An automobile engineer should be able to visualise which part of the vehicle is not working properly and needs to be replaced or repaired. If you are a design engineer you need to know various solid modelling and surface modelling software that are required to design vehicle components.
While the development of a vehicle there is a lot of collaboration between various teams like the design team show the vehicle design clearly to the clay modelling team, who then collaborate with the CAS modelling to create the surface model of the vehicle. This surface modelling team then collaborates with the engineering team to decide on the packaging of the vehicle which means how each component of the vehicle like engine, transmission, passengers etc fit into the vehicle. So, good communication and interpersonal skills will go a long way in this profession.
Other than that at the initial stage of your career, you would have to completely involve yourself handling different kinds of vehicles and spending a lot of time in the garage with black greasy hands, using tools to open up an engine and put it back together again.
What are the opportunities in the field of automobile engineering? And what does the future look like?
Currently, automobile engineering and design are at the cusp of monumental change. For 135 years the powertrain inside an automotive vehicle has been an IC engine. A lot of innovation has gone into it to make it more efficient and faster. But now a new tech is around the block because a south African dude named Elon decided to invest his fortune in a car company that makes cars that are powered by an electric motor. A company that shifted the outlook of electric cars in the eyes of the public from the dreary-looking vehicle which has a lot of flaws into an aspirational high tech gadget that every kid in the block wants. I think without Tesla no amount of environmental awareness or governmental pressure would have been able to force traditional auto manufacturers to transition their power train from IC engine to electric. In short, opportunities in automobile engineering are massive in the coming years. Different innovative ways of transportation are coming up, the concept of car ownership is slowly evolving. In India, though, an automobile engineer is also competing with engineers from other branches to get a job in a vehicle manufacturing company. Due to the very large no. of low-quality engineers in India, the salary is abysmal in the initial 5-8 years in the automotive sector, unless you graduate from a good college like IIT, NIT or top state-level colleges.
According to Glassdoor the average salary of an automobile engineer in India is about 4,03,000 INR per year in India.
The future of automotive is electric-powered vehicles. Electric vehicles have a lot fewer moving components than IC engine counterparts. They are cheaper to maintain, cheaper to run, easier and cheaper to manufacture. That is why a lot of startups in India have also entered into this electric two-wheeler space like Aether energy in Bangalore. These companies are also creating a lot of job opportunities for upcoming automotive engineers other than traditional car or bike companies.
Who are the famous automobile engineers?
Sumant Moolgaokar: He was the CEO of Tata engineering and locomotive company (TELCO). He is considered the architect of Tata motors. There is a very interesting story about him which I would like to share. When he was CEO at TATA motors, at lunchtime he would leave the office to have lunch somewhere outside the office. Most people suspected that since he was the CEO he was probably having lunch in a fancy hotel and few suspected some Tata dealers must be bribing him by offering him costly lunches at 5-star hotels. Some of his colleagues at top management became concerned about his behaviour about possible malpractice. So they decided to get to the bottom of this by following him to find out where he was going at his lunchtime. After tailing him for some time they were shocked to find out Sumant’s car parked near the highway Dhaba. They later found out that he used to have lunch in the same Dhaba where other local truck drivers have lunch. These truck drivers would mostly be driving TATA trucks. He would get feedback from the drivers about the problems they were facing driving a TATA truck. He would later share those feedback with the company R&D team. Such was his dedication to his work. The car TATA Sumo has been named after him using the first two letters of his name and Surname. He was awarded Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian honour.
Henry Ford: He is the founder of the Ford motor company. He is the one who developed the assembly line technique to increase mass production of the Ford Model T. By mass-producing Model The changed the automotive landscape forever. It became from an expensive toy for the upper class to a vehicle American middle-class could afford.
Bruce Mclaren: He was a race car driver, engineer, designer from New Zealand. He is also the founder of the Mclaren Racing Team, which has been a very successful Formula 1 team.
Carroll Shelby: He was a race car driver, engineer. He modified Mustang and AC cobra cars from Ford motor company. He established Shelby American to market performance cars.
Ferruccio Lamborghini: He was an Italian industrialist and founder of Automobili Lamborghini which makes luxury sports cars. He first started with the business of manufacturing tractors when he founded Lamborghini Trattori which was a significant manufacturer of agricultural equipment after Italy’s post-world war boom. He was a successful businessman and made a lot of money before starting Lamborghini Automobili and owned numerous expensive sports cars. He travelled to Maranello to buy a Ferrari 250 GT, but he was displeased with the serviceability of Ferrari and modified his own Ferrari 250GT which outperformed the factory stock models. He considered Ferraris to be too noisy and too rough to be proper road cars with poor quality interiors. He expressed his concerns to Enzo Ferrari, but being a proud man himself Enzo insultingly dismissed his opinions. After that Ferruccio decided to start his own automobile venture to build a perfect touring car. Surprisingly unlike his competitors, he was always against racing his cars which created a lot of friction with his employees, a lot of whom were racing enthusiasts.
Enzo Ferrari: He was the founder of the Scuderia Ferrari Grand Prix Motor racing team and owner of the Luxury sports car manufacturer Ferrari. In his early days, he was a driver with the Alfa Romeo racing team and won his first Grand Prix in 1923. He later engaged himself with the development of Alfa Romeo race cars and eventually created the racing team Scuderia Ferrari which was a racing division of Alfa Romeo. In 1937 this team under Alfa Romeo was dissolved but later Enzo started his own team in 1948 again and won the 24 hour Lemans race in 1949 beating the dominating Alfa Romeos. At the end of world war 2, Enzo founded the company Ferrari SPA and started building sports cars to finance his Grand Prix motor racing team.
Ken Miles: He was a British racing driver and sports car engineer. He left school at an early age to work as an apprentice at Wolseley Motors He also used to race motorcycles before joining the British army in WW2 where he worked at machinery for seven years. He was a mechanic by heart and driving was just a passion for him. He is best known for developing the Ford GT cars with Bruce Mclaren and beat the dominating Ferrari team at the 24 hour LeMans race. Watch the film Ford vs Ferrari if you are interested in the story, which is absolutely fascinating.
Ferdinand Porsche: He was a German automotive engineer and founder of the Porsche car company which manufactures high-end sports cars, the most famous of which is the Porsche 911 series of cars which has set a benchmark for sports cars in the automotive world. He was also the designer of the iconic car Volkswagen Beetle which was designed for middle-class Germans and went on to become an icon of independence and freedom among the young generation in America in the 70s. He also contributed to Nazi Germany during World war 2 for the development of tanks, self-propelled gun, V-1 flying bomb etc. Porsche was awarded the Car Engineer of the Century award in 1999.
What does a day in the life of an automobile engineer look like?
It mostly depends on which department you are working on and what is your expertise. It also depends on what kind of company you are working at. A vehicle is a combination of large no. of parts, and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) that produces the final product which is sold to the customers. Not all components inside a car are manufactured by the OEMs. Many components are outsourced to other companies who manufacture them like the steering column of Maruti Cars is manufactured by a company called JTEK Sona Ltd. This company only manufactures steering columns for other car manufacturers. These companies also have large operations in India, and they also hire automobile engineers at various roles like in the design dept., testing, procurement, Business Development, Manufacturing, Assembly Line, Quality control, R&D. A typical day for you if you are working in R&D would be handling a lot of reports, writing reports, discussing problems with the team, coming up with solutions, testing different solutions with various machines, meeting with top management, managing junior engineers, creating progress reports. Most of your time will be spent at workshops or research labs. If you are in manufacturing, most of your time will be spent at the production line. Monitoring progress, meeting with the workers, meeting production targets, solving problems in the production line, optimising production time and resources available.