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2012-10-16 10:50

FROM HIGHWAY TO OPEN OCEAN: A lightweight, fiberglass hull and front wheels that rise mechanically when the vehicle hits the waterare among the techniques the Quadski uses to enable it to reach a top speed of 72km/h.

DETROIT, USA - Fast amphibious vehicles could soon be headed for garages in the US.

The Quadski, a single-seat all-terrain vehicle that doubles as a personal watercraft, is being billed by its makers as the first high-speed, commercial amphibious vehicle.

It's scheduled to go on sale in the US by the end of 2012 for the rand equivalent of R352 000. Gibbs Sports Amphibians hopes to sell the vehicle worldwide by 2014.


The unit is powered by a four-cylinder BMW engine and can reach 70km/h on land or water. At the push of a button the wheels fold inward and tuck under huge mudguards to allow speed-boating instead of driving.

Founder Alan Gibbs said: "You just drive straight into the water, quite fast, and keep on going. It's sort of magic. It seems so simple but it's really difficult."

History is littered with attempts to make fast, long-lasting amphibious cars, from the campy German Amphicar of the early 1960's to current companies reworking sports cars for more than R1.7 million.

Gibbs, a former diplomat and entrepreneur from New Zealand, claims the Quadski is the first land vehicle for sale that can go more than 16km/h in water. He launched Gibbs Sports Amphibians in 1996, building his own amphibious car and hoping to expand his business globally. Since then, the company has spent R1.7-billion, built nine prototypes and amassed more than 300 patents.


The Quadski isn't Gibbs' first amphibious vehicle. In 2003 he created the three-seat Aquada, which is capable of 160km/h on land and 48km/h on water. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson used an Aquada in 2004 when he set an amphibious vehicle speed record for crossing the English Channel.

The Aquada never went on sale as its engine supplier, Rover, declared bankruptcy. US safety regulators wouldn't approve it for street use due to safety issues. The government insisted on air bags, for example, even though 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. The automaker's target customers are outdoor sportsman.

Ryan Brown, a salesman at Carter Powersports in Las Vegas, had not heard of another vehicle like the Quadski and thought it a great concept.

He's not sure customers will pay more than R300 000 for one when a standard ATV costs R38 000 and R88 000. "These are toys people don't have a lot of extra money for right now. People are having a hard enough time getting financed on a R44 000 motorcycle."


The Quadski will be made at the company's Michigan factory, a former Daewoo Group parts plant. Gibbs Chairman and CEO Neil Jenkins said the company has 100 employees at the plant. It plans to produce 20 Quadskis per day and increase to 150 employees when the plant is in full operation.

The company expects to sell around 1000 Quadskis in its first year of production.

Gibbs said: "We'll respond to how the market develops. We wouldn't be doing it without being very confident people will love them."

Gibbs said the company may return to the Aquada someday and try to make it street legal for US buyers. In the meantime it's planning eight personal sports vehicles based on the Quadski, including some with more seating and SUV-like proportions.

The company is also preparing to introduce two models, the Phibian and Humdinga, for military use.

The Phibian (a nine-metre long, 6.5-ton model) and the Humdinga  (6.6-metre, 3.5-ton model), can also be ordered by private customers.

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