Products to Watch
Will the fickle younger generation take to the sporty Pontiac Vibe, a compact wagon that goes on sale in January? Toyota did most of the engineering on the $17,000 Vibe, but the car's styling is all Pontiac. Enthusiasts say that the GT model, with its 180-horsepower Yamaha engine, will be particularly hot. Another neat trick: The rear seats fold into the floor at the push of a button to make space for all the stuff kids carry around today (800 762-2737, pontiac.com).
-- Techies are going to love the Treo, Handspring's (HAND ) take on the flip-phone, due in January. It's a full-fledged handheld computer using the Palm system and will come with either the familiar Palm handwriting-recognition pad or a tiny keyboard reminiscent of BlackBerry pagers. Flip the lid on the $399 gizmo and your speed-dial list pops up on the screen. Place your call from that, the keypad, or a quick search of your address book (888 565-9393, handspring.com).
-- It still has a lot to prove, but the AbioCor artificial heart from Abiomed looks far more promising than past such devices. The three-pound, titanium-and-plastic experimental heart is powered by batteries worn outside the body that transmit power without wires. It has been implanted since July in six patients with severely damaged hearts, and all but two--one did not survive the operation--are still alive (800 422-8666, www.abiomed.com).
-- Procrastinators, cheer up! Uncle Sam has noticed that gap in your retirement savings and produced a sweetener to help you fill it. Starting next year, workers aged 50 and up can make tax-free "catch-up" contributions to their retirement plans--an extra $1,000 a year for 401(k) and similar employer-backed plans and $500 for traditional IRAs. The annual bonuses step up to $5,000 and $1,000 by 2006.
-- Cadillac will replace the oh-so-dull Catera entry-luxury sedan in January with the sporty CTS. The $30,000 to $35,000 CTS is supposed to be an alternative to the sophisticated but conservative imported luxury cars. The edgy looks of the exterior may be a bit much for many buyers, but few will complain about its sporty ride. Caddy's engineers tested its performance on the same German track that BMW uses to develop its sporty-driving cars (800 458-8006, cadillac.com).
-- With throwaway wireless phones, there's no excuse to be out of touch. Companies such as Hop-On and Dieceland are bringing out models loaded with up to an hour of talk time for $10 to $30. Their makers hope the phones will become popular promotional giveaways, like phone cards emblazoned with corporate logos. With these, though, the phone is attached (714 590-4901, hop-on.com).
Edited by Larry Armstrong