Autonomous cars are all the talk these days. But what about cars and trucks that float on water and can race at high speeds on land and sea?
Gibbs Sports Amphibians in Auburn Hills, Mich., may be the master of the land-water vehicle. The company's product line got some international attention recently when it was featured on "Top Gear," a British TV show with 340 million viewers.
In the episode that aired on BBC America, the Quadski, a quad bike that reaches speeds of 45 mph on land and water, races a sporty Alfa Romeo 4C along Lake Como in Italy. "It should get the name out there in a big way," says Graham Jenkins, sales and marketing manager for Gibbs Sports Amphibians.
Amphibious vehicles that can travel on land or sea date to carriages in the 1700s. History is dotted with amphibious creations, such as assorted military vehicles and alligator tugs that logging companies used to cross rivers in the 1870s.
Hovercrafts are one form of amphibious vehicles; they can travel on an air cushion. More-conventional amphibious vehicles often use tracks instead of wheels on land.
Gibbs sets itself apart by achieving real speed no matter what the surface is and can switch from one mode to the other in less than three seconds.
It is James Bond kind of stuff. In fact, Gibbs was approached about appearing in a film with 007, but the company turned down the offer. "We would have had to pay a huge amount, and we were not interested," Jenkins says.
Gibbs Sports Amphibians is growing its leadership with a series of moves designed to corner the assorted markets for these unique vehicles. The company ramped up its sales projections and capacity in Auburn Hills for the Quadski.
It takes about three days to make a Quadski, which has a BMW motorcycle engine and retails for $42,000.
There are 16 U.S. dealers with 21 retail outlets, and Jenkins would like to see the Quadski sold by about 50 marine and other sports retail outlets by the end of the year.
Gibbs has not faced competition from conventional carmakers, and Jenkins thinks that is because it is such an odd segment. Determining viability required a business plan that researched ATV and water-scooter sales to extrapolate how many customers might want both in a single package. One advantage is that it is a private company that answers only to its two enthusiastic founders.
Gibbs dates to 2003 and its first creation: a three-seat sports car called the Aquada, introduced in the U.K. With most of the inquiries coming from the U.S., the founders set up Gibbs Sports Amphibians in Auburn Hills in 2007.
It developed the Quadski and launched it in October 2012. The first shipments were in January 2013, followed by international exports in December.
Another division of the company, Gibbs Amphitrucks, also is ramping up. It announced recently that it signed a 12-year licensing agreement with Singapore Technologies Kinetics to make and sell amphibious trucks in Southeast Asia.
While the Quadski is a recreational vehicle, the company's Humdinga truck is more of a first-responder emergency vehicle, Jenkins says. It is 21.5 feet long and can carry a half-ton of supplies to aid communities hit by floods and tsunami, where the terrain is rough and covered in water.
Gibbs has tested three truck prototypes that can travel at highway speeds, go off-road, hit 30 mph on the water and handle waves up to 2 feet.
ST Kinetics plans to build and sell a version of the Humdinga for disaster relief. The Asian company needs about a year to finalize vehicle details and set up a production facility in Singapore.