A difference between the sexes is that women will buy a “guy” car, but men won't go for a “gal” car.

No gender-specific labels get slapped on windshields. But gender perceptions influence buying behavior.

In 2007, Chrysler introduced a new Jeep Liberty, beefier and more masculine looking than its predecessor. Why? Because the vehicle had been skewing 60% towards female buyers. Chrysler wanted to draw more male buyers to the Liberty. So designers set out to make the new one look more “manly.”

“But aren't you worried doing that will drive off your female buyers?” I asked Jason Vines, Chrysler's vice president-communications at the time.

“No,” he said. “Our research shows you can make a vehicle more masculine without losing female buyers. But if you make it look more feminine, you will lose male buyers.”

That may say something about male insecurities. But auto makers are in the business of selling cars, not analyzing human psyches.

The Volkswagen Beetle didn't start out as a so-called “chick” car. In fact, it began life in the 1930s as a German “people's car” envisioned as a vehicle for the masses.

Ferdinand Porsche invented the Beetle. Ironically, he also created a namesake super-sports car that tilts heavily to male buyers with a need for speed.

Although slower and more austere than the Porsche, the Beetle became a true global vehicle. In the 1960s and 1970s, it reigned as the top import car in the U.S.

But since its 1998 reintroduction as the New Beetle, it has garnered a reputation and a sales record as a girl car. Contributing to that was VW's decision to put a flower vase on the dashboard. It was a cute idea. But it scared off the guys.

“The wife of one of my customers has a Beetle, and he told me, ‘I am not driving a car that has a flower vase,’” says Dale Smith, general manager of Village VW in Chattanooga, TN.

VW will debut a redesigned Beetle, hoping it will appeal more to both sexes. VW design chief Klaus Bischoff says the goal was not so much to inject testosterone into the new model as to take it back to its roots as a car with mass appeal to both sexes.

“I won't do a car that I cannot see myself in,” he told Ward's after introducing the '12 Beetle at this year's New York auto show.

Dealers expect the new Beetle will break down some barriers. “I think it will be a car men will drive,” Smith tells me.

VW's touchiness about the Beetle's singular sex appeal manifests itself across the product lineup. For example, the Passat sedan has fairly even male-female demographics, yet designers took no chances in restyling the '12 model.

“We made it bigger, more masculine, more muscular,” says J.C. Pavone, chief assistant designer.

Chrysler, which had determinedly manned up the Jeep Liberty four years ago, has introduced the Fiat 500 to the U.S. market.

At a media event for the car's new Cabrio version, Laura Soave, head of the Fiat brand here, fended off some questions about whether the car may appeal too much to women.

“We'll see more female buyers for the Cabrio, because women tend to buy more convertibles,” she says. “But sales for the Fiat 500 hatchback are 60% male.”

Winning female buyers at the expense of male buyers, “is not a concern of ours,” she adds.

Still, in reviewing the Fiat 500, the Detroit Free Press calls it “spicy,” “spunky” and “petite.” With a tip of the hat, the male reviewer writes, “Hello, beautiful.”

Oh boy. Chrysler hardly wants the Fiat 500 to become the sister of the Beetle.