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New Amphibian Vehicle "Aquada" Makes Debut

Aquada (select to view enlarged photo)

Vehicles, Not Frogs
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Just think about it. We’re assured that global warming will result in glaciers melting and sea levels rising at a devastating rate. So what could be more forward-thinking than developing high-speed, road-worthy amphibious vehicles for use as taxi cabs in Manhattan, Miami, Los Angeles and Detroit – any coastal or waterfront city?

That’s not really what Alan Gibbs, founder and chairman of Gibbs Technologies Ltd., has in mind but it may be the result of his innovations. Gibbs, an entrepreneurial New Zealander trained in engineering and economics and formerly a diplomat and car dealer revealed products and plans for ‘high-speed,’ amphibious vehicles to an interested band of journalists in Detroit today.

The soft-spoken but remarkably self-assured Mr. Gibbs became interested in developing high-speed, amphibious vehicles in the 1990s at his farm near Auckland where the harbor nearby has a mile-long tidal range making recreational boating pretty difficult. To date he has poured about $100 million and a million engineering man-hours into the project with, he assures us, enough success to bring the first two vehicles to market. He proudly showed them to us today.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The sports car called Aquada has already been homologated in Europe and is being federalized here. It looks a bit like an older Mazda Miata roadster but wider with three seats across. The transverse engine, transmission and power-take-off are mounted inside the composite body behind the triple seat. The engine and transmission work conventionally when Aquada is on land and the PTO powers the jet pump for propulsion in the water. The transition is fully automatic. Aquada can do 110-mph on land and 32-mph in the water, a record for amphibious vehicles.

As the driver approaches the water he/she just pushes one button to tell the car of the coming change in surface and then he/she just drives straight into the water. The vehicle sensors initiate the transition - taking only a few seconds - to water-jet propulsion, steering by the jet. What’s really innovative, pretty cool and makes it all work is that all four wheels tuck up into the body out of the way to prevent the hydraulic drag that has plagued previous amphibious vehicles.

That remarkably complex collapsing suspension is common to all these amphibious vehicles. Dozens of patents protect it all.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Chief engineer, Neal Jenkins, notes that the struts along perform five different functions. The other production-ready amphibian introduced today is called Quadski – perhaps because it’s a crossbreed of a quad ATV and a jet-ski. Like the sports car the Quadski’s transition from land to water is automatic. They’re hoping to bring this great toy with some practical applications in at around $15,000.

Other vehicles under development by Mr. Gibbs and his team are based on the same principles, that is, vehicles that can make reasonable speeds on both land and water by tucking their wheels up out of the way. A partnership with Lockheed Martin is pursuing military applications including a troop carrier and combat craft.

Manufacturing sites and distribution systems have not been determined. One reason Gibbs and his team were in Detroit this week is to explore the possibility of locating the manufacturing activities here. After all, he says, most of the development work was done here in the 90s with Detroit area engineers.

I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of this one. We’ll let you know when we get an actual road/lake test.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved