DETROIT — Amphibious vehicles soon could be zooming out of James Bond’s garage — or pond — and into yours.
The Quadski — a one-person all-terrain vehicle that doubles as a personal watercraft — is being billed by its makers as the first high-speed, commercially available amphibious vehicle. It is set to go on sale in the United States this year for around $40,000. Michigan-based Gibbs Sports Amphibians Inc. hopes to sell the vehicle worldwide by 2014.
With its all-terrain tires and four-cylinder, BMW-supplied engine, the Quadski can drive up to 45 miles per hour on land. To take it into the water, the driver presses a button. In five seconds, the four wheels fold up and tuck into the sides. The Quadski can go a brisk 45 miles per hour in the water before a press of the button brings the wheels out again.
“You just drive straight into the water, quite fast, and keep on going. It’s sort of magic,” said the founder of Gibbs Sports Amphibians, Alan Gibbs.
However, history is littered with attempts to produce fast, long-lasting amphibious cars.
Mr. Gibbs has made everything from bras to television sets over a long career in New Zealand and Britain. He launched Gibbs Sports Amphibians 16 years ago after building his own amphibious car and wondering if he could make it on a larger scale. Since then, the company has spent $200 million, built nine prototypes, and received more than 300 patents. “It seems so simple, but it's really difficult,” Mr. Gibbs said.
The Quadski will be made at Gibbs’ Auburn Hills, Mich., factory. Neil Jenkins, chairman and chief executive officer, said the company has 100 employees at the plant. It plans to produce 20 Quadskis a day with 150 employees when the plant is in full operation. It expects to sell about 1,000 Quadskis the first year.
The Quadski is not Mr. Gibbs’ first vehicle. That honor belongs to the three-seat Aquada, which debuted in 2003 and goes 100 mph on land and 30 mph in the water. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson used an Aquada in 2004 when he set an amphibious vehicle speed record crossing the English Channel. It never went on sale. First its engine supplier went out of business. Then U.S. safety regulators would not approve it for street use because of safety issues. The government insisted on air bags, for example.
But the Aquada never went on sale. First its engine supplier went out of business. Then U.S. safety regulators wouldn't approve it for street use because of several safety issues. The government insisted on air bags, for example, even though Mr. Gibbs argued that they might deploy every time the Aquada hit a large wave.
Gibbs Sports Amphibians hopes to turn things around with the Quadski, which has fewer safety requirements because it's an ATV.