Kiwi businessman Alan Gibbs plans to target the military, public transport suppliers and rescue services with his new range of amphibious vehicles.
The NBR Rich Lister announced the first of these vehicles this week – an all-terrain vehicle called Quadski – saying the way it could travel on water as fast as it could on land (72km/h) was the greatest technological breakthrough to hit motoring since Ford launched its Model T more than 100 years ago.
“It’s aimed at anyone who wants a new form of freedom to go on land and water at good speed,” Mr Gibbs told NBR.
The vehicle – the first of eight amphibious vessels he plans to launch – is the result of more than $US200 million of investment over 16 years.
More than 300 patents
Earlier attempts came to nothing, with his famous Aquada being withdrawn following its 2004 launch after product liability fears. Just 25 were made, which he stores at his Kaipara Harbour estate.
But this week, he and business partner Neil Jenkins were finally able to announce sales of the $US40,000 BMW-powered Quadski would begin in the US later this year, with marketing to other countries starting next year.
Their company, Gibbs Sports Amphibians, also plans to launch a military-style SUV, the Humdinga, and the Phibian, an amphibious truck mainly for rescue purposes, in the coming months.
Such vehicles have needed more than 300 patents as his staff devised the technology, which allows fast water speeds by the vehicles lifting up their wheels and being able to plane across the water instead of cutting through it.
The design work has been in New Zealand, though manufacture of the Quadski will take place in Detroit and the Humdinga will be made at Gibb’s British “facility”.
“There’s still millions of square feet of car manufacturing in Detroit. All the suppliers and sophisticated engineering you need are all represented here in Detroit. Most of our work (so far) has been R&D. The West is still the best for R&D,” he explained as to why his vehicles won’t be made in China.
Gibbs Sports Amphibians has further projects in development, including sports amphibious vehicles, motorbikes and ATVs. “We can make anything amphibious that goes on the road,” he says.
‘Labour of enjoyment’
“It’s the biggest technological increase in the capability of the motor car since the Model T. No one has been able to make a vehicle that goes fast on both land and water.”
Mr Gibbs says his vehicles have received interest from New York City’s transport department, which saw potential in them reducing congestion by being able to pick up passengers by their homes, take them across water, avoid congested bridges and then drop them off by their offices.
Such vessels could also transport US troops more safely at high speeds, avoiding the vulnerability they have when moving slowly on and offshore with existing vehicles.
Mr Gibbs, who is worth about $440 million, says he has “plenty of plans” for his business, which he would not reveal, other than to say he expected he would get his money back on his investment in the vehicles, some of which will be displayed around Auckland over Christmas.
“They have been a labour of enjoyment. All of my friends are playing golf. I refer to this as my golf. I certainly intend to make a significant amount of money out of it,” the 72-year-old says.