DETROIT The Quadski, a one-person all-terrain vehicle that doubles as a personal water craft, will be on sale in the United States next month for around $40,000.
New Zealand businessman Alan Gibbs, the 73-year-old founder of Gibbs Sports Amphibians, said he hopes the Quadski will be a stepping stone to selling full-size amphibious cars to the masses.
Powered by a BMW motorcycle engine that turns the wheels and also drives its waterjet propulsion, the Quadski's backers say it is capable of 45 miles per hour (70 kmh) on both land and water, with just five seconds required to convert to each role.
The Quadski goes on sale next month in Florida and by the end of the year will also be available in Texas, the Great Lakes area, and the New York area, with California sales to follow next year. Gibbs wants to sell the Quadski around the world by 2014.
The price tag will keep sales volume low, Gibbs admitted to reporters at a press conference last Friday.
"Just like flat screen TVs and other things, the cost will go down," said Gibbs, who added that Gibbs Sports Amphibians is targeting sales of 1,000 in its first year, produced at the company's assembly plant in suburban Detroit.
Efforts to make mass-produced amphibious cars are not new but have not been wildly popular. The German-made Amphicar of the 1960s sold only 4,000, with modest performance both on land and the water.
The Quadski is not Gibbs Technologies' first amphibious vehicle, but is the first to be sold commercially.
The best known venture so far is the larger Aquada, which was produced by Gibbs Technologies in Britain. The Aquada was a sports car on land and a water craft that was fast enough for Virgin Group founder Richard Branson to steer across the English Channel in record time for an amphibious vehicle in 2004.
But Gibbs Technologies was unable to sell any of the 40 Aquadas the company produced, because the maker of its engine went out of business, raising support issues, said Neil Jenkins, chairman of both parent company Gibbs Technologies and Gibbs Sports Amphibians.
And then there was the web of U.S. regulations, said Jenkins, which may still keep Gibbs from realizing his dream of producing a mid-sized amphibious road-legal car. When the Aquada was presented for approval by U.S. regulators, they did not know whether to consider it an on-road motor vehicle or a boat.
The solution, said Jenkins, would be to "find a new category of vehicle" that will allow for meeting both land and marine regulations.
"In retrospect, the engineering which we thought was going to be the hardest task of all has paled in significance compared to the regulatory task."
(Reporting By Bernie Woodall; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)