How much does it cost for a car designer to live in different cities around the world? And what’s the quality of living?

28 July 2016 | by Lem Bingley

Few professions are as international in their outlook as vehicle design. To gain a broad variety of experience while climbing through the ranks, designers can seldom switch employers within the same city; moving between manufacturers more often comes with a change of continent. The financial impact can be hard to assess, meaning a pay rise on paper might easily lead to a hefty drop in spending power if your new studio lies in one of the world’s more expensive locations.

CDN has teamed up with international consultancy Mercer to shed some light on the situation. Mercer compiles annual cost of living data for 209 major cities around the globe. We’ve sifted out the data for 21 of the top destinations for car design, collectively home to the majority of significant studios.

As well as Mercer’s overall cost-of-living rank, which in our sample runs from Tokyo (the world’s fifth most expensive city) to Bangalore (180th), we’ve selected a range of specific items – from the cost of popping out for a cup of coffee through to the price of putting a child through international school. Our basket of items gives a rough guide to living costs in five categories:

  • Food and drink
  • Clothing
  • Accommodation
  • Education
  • Entertainment

Here’s how our 21 locations shake out:

City Country Food and Drink Clothing Accommodation Education Entertainment Mercer Rank
Tokyo Japan $$$$ $$$$ $$$$$ $$ $$$$$ 5
Shanghai China $$$$$ $$$$$ $$$$$ $$$$$ $$$$ 7
Beijing China $$$$$ $$$$ $$$$ $$$$$ $$$$ 10
New York USA $$$$$ $ $$$$$ $$$$$ $$$$$ 11
Seoul South Korea $$$$$ $$$$$ $$$$ $$$$ $$ 15
London UK $$$ $$$ $$$$$ $$$$$ $$$$$ 17
Los Angeles USA $$$$ $ $$$ $$ $$$$ 27
Taipei Taiwan $$$ $$$$ $ $$ $$$ 43
Paris France $$ $$$ $$$ $$$$ $$$$ 44
Milan  Italy $$$ $$$  $$  $$  $$  50 
Nagoya  Japan  $$$$  $$$$  $$ $ $$$$$ 54
Bangkok  Thailand  $$  $$$  $$  $$$  74 
Munich  Germany  $$  $$$  $$$  $$  $$$  77 
Mumbai  India  82 
Frankfurt  Germany  $$  $$$  $$ 


$$$ 88 
Birmingham  UK  $$$  $$$$  $$$  96 
Detroit  USA  $$$  $$  $$  $$$  103 
Barcelona  Spain  $$  $$$  $$$  110 
São Paulo  Brazil $$  $$$  128 
Stuttgart Germany  $$  $$$  $$$  129 
Bangalore  India  180 


$ = More than 30 percent below average
$$ = 10-30 percent below average
$$$ = Average, ±10 percent
$$$$ = 10-30 percent above average
$$$$$ = More than 30 percent above average
? = no data

Our selection is not exhaustive – there are are of course other significant outlays including the cost of transport, home furnishings, utilities, consumer goods and telecommunications. Mercer’s overall score includes a broader basket of costs than our five samples can convey.

Overall living costs are likely to be dominated by accommodation in some of the world’s more expensive locations, most notably London and New York, where competition for high-quality housing is fierce. Mercer collected figures for “a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment of international standards in an appropriate neighbourhood”, which put London at $55,000 per year, and New York at $61,200 – respectively 72 percent and 92 percent above the average across our sample cities. Both sums can of course be reduced if you are prepared to be flexible about what constitutes an appropriate neighbourhood.

Similarly, private education can swallow unnervingly vast sums of money. We calculated the cost of putting a child through international school, across 15 years from kindergarten to preparation for university.

In Shanghai, New York and London, the cumulative cost topped half a million dollars, making the quarter of a million or so required in cities like Los Angeles, Milan and Munich seem like a relative bargain.


Quality of life and personal safety

Data from Mercer makes one thing clear: if you want to enjoy the best that life can offer as a vehicle designer, it’s probably a good idea to work in Germany.

Every year Mercer ranks 230 global cities according to the general wellbeing they offer, as well as the threat posed to personal safety. Factors such as social unrest, security concerns and economic outlook are assessed, as well as political stability, crime figures, the record of local law enforcement and national relationships between countries.

Munich and Frankfurt both feature in the top 10 cities in terms of overall quality of life, ranked globally at number 4 and 7 respectively. Stuttgart follows closely at number 24, and all three German cities rank among the world’s top 20 for personal safety.

At the other end of the spectrum, São Paulo, Bangkok, Bangalore and Mumbai all rank among the least attractive places to live among our sample of 21 cities, which together reflect the locations of most of the world’s car design studios.

The two Indian cities of Bangalore and Mumbai both ranked worse than 120 in the league table of high quality places to live, and fared worse still in terms of personal safety. São Paulo was the least secure city in our sample, ranked 192nd in the world for personal safety.

Beijing and Shanghai in China also ranked poorly in terms of both quality of life and personal safety when compared with cities in Europe, Japan and North America – with the notable exception of Detroit, which is considered worse than China from a safety standpoint.

All of the above scores are relative, of course. Spare a thought for the citizens of Baghdad in Iraq, ranked the most dangerous city with the lowest quality of life among the 230 measured by Mercer.

Global Rankings

City Country Quality of Living Personal Safety
Bangalore India 145 123
Bangkok Thailand 129 173
Barcelona Spain 39 64
Beijing China 118 97
Birmingham UK 53 54
Detroit USA 70 107
Frankfurt Germany 7 11
London UK 39 72
Los Angeles USA 49 72
Milan Italy 41 63
Mumbai India 152 149
Munich Germany 4 11
Nagoya Japan 62 32
New York USA 44 72
Paris France 37 71
São Paulo Brazil 121 192
Seoul South Korea 73 115
Shanghai China 101 97
Stuttgart Germany 24 16
Taipei Taiwan 84 78
Tokyo Japan 44 32

The data used in this report is from Mercer, a global consulting firm in talent, health, retirement and investments. Mercer carries out annual surveys to assess the cost of living and the quality of living across over 200 cities worldwide. For more information, visit the Mercer website at

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