Cars are essentially brainless devices that have been messing up the environment since they were invented. Of those on the market, few seem dumber than the petrol-guzzling dinosaur the sport-utility vehicle (SUV). However, this dinosaur seems destined for extinction as long as the price of fuel remains high. This is a predicament General Motors' military-style Hummer has found itself in, with sales in the US of the off-road vehicle slowing by about 40 per cent this year. This suggests motorists are hungry for cars that offer far more finesse and better fuel economy. The current leader in the race is that supposed embodiment of 'innovation, functionality and joy of life' - Daimler's smart fortwo. The turbocharged microcar has grabbed loads of media coverage since it was introduced at the 1998 Paris Motor Show as the City Coupe. A low-emission vehicle, the fortwo's attraction is almost exclusively environmental; even the all-electric version, slated for release in 2010, features little to write home about in terms of technological innovation. The manufacturer uses relatively harmless paints for the car's three basic colours (black, white and yellow) and it is built with fully recyclable panels. The fortwo also boasts compact proportions - it's about 2.7 metres long; that makes it extremely easy to park. Wolfgang Wahlster, chief executive and scientific director at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, foresees cars equipped with lashings of artificial intelligence in the not-too-distant future. And considering how well Global Positioning System (GPS) devices have caught on with motorists, his vision could well be just around the corner. GPS uses a group of medium-Earth orbit satellites to send precise microwave signals, informing receivers of their location, speed and direction. The car of Professor Wahlster's dreams is intensely personalised, perceptive even. Biometric voice analysis detects the age and gender of the driver. Biosensors gauge the driver's mood and adjust how the car handles accordingly. Speech recognition enables the driver to control the air-conditioning, choose music and program the GPS system. Meanwhile, services from the so-called semantic Web - an evolving extension of the existing World Wide Web - will help motorists find the nearest and lowest-priced service station. Information about upcoming historical landmarks and points of interest will be beamed to the driver via the internet. To help prevent the driver from crashing, the car's pattern-recognition system reads sensor signals and warns of the risk of aquaplaning, for example. In another boost to safety, messages will be sent via wireless networks to vehicles from those in front to warn of hazards. At least, that is the theory; nothing yet approaches that level of sophistication. Wahlster's car of the future brings to mind Herbie - the fictional Volkswagen Beetle featured in several Walt Disney movies. Equipped with a mind of its own and capable of driving itself, Herbie has the wow factor, if limited green credentials. So the dream car would be a fusion of Herbie and the fortwo - one capable of nifty tricks and eco-friendly to the core.