Motorcycles define speed and “cool,” with their aerodynamic designs and exposed passengers. Their good looks must combine consumer desires for up-to-date styling, safe travel, mechanical prowess, efficient function and dependable running, all in an affordable package. Engineers earn their pay by defining the appearance and operational capabilities of these two-wheeled vehicles.
Entry-level jobs in motorcycle engineering require at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering specialty such as industrial design, mechanical engineering or electronics. Those interested in research and development may need master’s degrees, and those who want management positions also can study business administration. Engineering curriculums typically cover mathematics such as algebra and calculus, science such as chemistry and physics, and engineering theory and technical studies, based on a foundation of liberal arts such as humanities, literature and social sciences. No licensing is necessary, unless engineers offer their services directly to the public. In such cases, a two-stage examination confers the credential of professional engineer.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies motorcycle engineers under motor vehicle manufacturing, where the mean wages for all engineers were $39.99 per hour or $83,180 per year as of May 2010. Mechanical engineers earned a mean $43.98 per hour or $91,470 per year; and electrical engineers received a mean $43.99 per hour or $91,490 per year. Industrial designers, who are responsible for the general look of the vehicles, made a mean $42.44 per hour or $88,280 per year. Of course, those with master's degrees will receive generally receive higher wages than those with just bachelor's degrees.
Motorcycle engineers receive the benefits granted to all employees of their companies. Though these perks differ by employer, those offered by Harley-Davidson show a comparative example. They start with medical, prescription, dental and vision plans to take care of health needs. A pretax health savings account can provide compensation for uncovered medical expenses. Insurance for life and disability takes care of unpredictable events. Vacations and holidays are paid for and tuition reimbursement allows engineers to continue their educations. The company also offers a stock purchase plan, discounts on motorcycle purchases and a retirement plan.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics sees all engineering jobs increasing by 11 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is about average for all jobs in all professions. Unfortunately, this does not hold true for the motor vehicle industry, where all professional occupations will decline by almost 12 percent, with jobs for mechanical engineers dropping at almost 11 percent. The lack of demand in an industry usually means that salaries will rise more slowly or even decline. This is due to increasing international competition, which has increased costs for manufacturers. The only major American motorcycle company left is Harley-Davidson, though some international companies, such as Honda, require engineers in their American plants.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition -- Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2010 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates -- Motor Vehicle Manufacturing Wages
- Harley-Davidson: Benefits
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition -- Motor Vehicle and Parts Manufacturing
- CNN Money: Harley-Davidson’s Aging Biker Problem
- Honda R&D Americas: Engineering Job Opportunities
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