No one finds the concept of an Alessi kettle strange. We are used to the idea of a pop art soap dish or an art deco CD rack. From the day that Terence Conran published his House Book in 1974, we have opened our doors to Design with a capital D, clapped it by the hand, and invited it to make free with all the paraphernalia of our kitchens and bathrooms. But not of our cars. The car accessory is still either inconspicuously practical or conspicuously tacky. Some - the delightfully named air freshener Eau d'Auto springs to mind - even manage to be both. We spend weeks of our lives on the road each year. Don't drivers deserve something a little more classy?

It could be that we don't actually want anything swish. Maybe the modern car - rolling out of the factory laden with mod cons - means we don't need add-ons. But maybe, having been offered a diet of tat for so long, we've just lost the appetite for anything else, lost sight of the fact there can be anything else.

After all, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with a Fold-Away Drink Holder (Starcase, pounds 5.99). Anything that stops half-open cans of Coke being kicked over the floor sounds like progress. But having the words "fold- away drink holder" stencilled on the front (in case you forget? To enlighten passengers?) does little to endear it and, whether mounted on the dashboard or clipped to the door, the FADH could never be described as elegant. Like the bulk of motoring stocking-fillers, it appears to have been designed by someone who still believes you can have any colour as long as it's black or grey (and any material as long as it's plastic).

Imagine instead a drinks stand made of beech wood and aluminum; a chrome waste basket; a replacement lighter that's as casually elegant as the Zippo in your pocket. Small objects of desire do not have to be naff.

So why do the gadget-makers presume the world and its mother is a travelling sales rep? I don't want the Car Note Indexer (Starcase, pounds 7.99). I realise that it's actually a "dual information centre" but to me it still looks like a note book cum phone index. I can quite see that its sister product, the Stick-On Notes To Go memo pad (pounds 7.99) might be "ideal for the busy executive who makes phone calls and plans his day whilst in transit". But in the interest of taste and road safety alike, I'd rather not find one at the end of the bed on Christmas morning.

Likewise, the Electronic Lumbar Massage Cushion (Innovations, pounds 17.95), whose "four magnets and series of nodules" deliver a gentle going-over to the lower back. There is a place for everything. And in this case it's not the M40.

At pounds 2.98, the Belcar sticky-back plastic ashtray is admittedly cheap, and it temporarily solves the problem of having to empty out the fitted ones. But it's harder to see the point of the same company's 10ft extendable cigarette lighter. If passengers want to light up in the back, can't they just ask to pass the lighter?

And, on the subject of tobacco, is the No Smoking Sign Air Freshener (Woolworth's, 99p) really, as its makers claim, such "a pleasant way to ask your passengers to stop smoking"?

The Drivers Essential Aromatherapy Air Vent Freshener may well let "the ancient art of aromatherapy, refined over the centuries" assist me "with today's driving anxiety and stresses", but at the end of the day isn't it just another smell disperser? (Anyway, Dunlop's latest development, tyres that smell of flowers, sounds far more exciting).

Unlike nodding dogs or furry dice, the above objects can't even be excused on the grounds that they're kitsch. For the average motorist, the only purpose in buying them, is to take some kind of pre-emptive revenge on car thieves.

That's the Christmas miss list, then. The wish list is somewhat shorter. It's possibly a little greedy to expect the futuristic Traffic Master YQ Navigation System (pounds 149, plus radio airtime) or the Automobile Association's stolen vehicle tracker (pounds 399). For a hundredth of the cost, the AA's blind spot mirrors are exceptional value. Not too festive, though.

Innovations' tiny Car Light Warning is closer to the mark. It buzzes if you leave the lights on. Cheap, too, at pounds 4.95. But weighing up usefulness and fun, I'll lump for the Leading Edge's Voice Memo Key Fob (pounds 19.99), a slickly rendered little gadget, perfect for reminding yourself where you left the car. Or, on second thoughts, just give me an Alessi kettle.

Innovations (01793 513936); Halfords (0345 626625); Leading Edge (0171- 229 3338); Starcase gifts are found in C&A, Debenhams, Littlewoods, Argos & House of Fraser

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