Automakers are interested in creating optimal car shapes that can visually convey environmental friendliness and safety to customers. This research examined the influence of vehicle form on perceptions based on two subjective inference measures: safety and perceived environmental friendliness (PEF). A within-subjects study was conducted in 2009 (Study 1) to study how people would evaluate 20 different vehicle silhouettes created by designers in industry. Participants were asked to evaluate forms on several scales, including PEF, safety, inspired by nature, familiarity, and overall preference. The same study was repeated in 2016 (Study 2). The results from the first study showed an inverse relationship between PEF and perceptions of safety. That is, vehicles that appeared to be safe were perceived to be less environmentally friendly, and vice versa. Participants in the second study showed a similar trend, but not as strongly as the 2009 participants. Several shape variables were identified to be correlated with participants’ PEF and safety ratings. The changes in the trend of participants’ evaluations over seven years were also discussed. These results can provide designers with insights into how to create car shapes with balanced PEF and safety in the early design stage.
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