DETROIT (AP) — Amphibious vehicles could soon be zooming out of James Bond's garage — or pond — and into yours.
The Quadski — a one-person all-terrain vehicle that doubles as a personal watercraft — is being billed by its makers as the first high-speed, commercially available amphibious vehicle. It's scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. by the end of this year for around $40,000. Michigan-based Gibbs Sports Amphibians Inc. hopes to sell the vehicle worldwide by 2014.
With its all-terrain tires and four-cylinder, BMW-supplied engine, the Quadski can drive up to 45 miles per hour on land. To take it into the water, the driver presses a button. In five seconds, the four wheels fold up and tuck into the sides. The Quadski can go a brisk 45 miles per hour in the water before a press of the button brings the wheels out again.
"You just drive straight into the water, quite fast, and keep on going. It's sort of magic," the founder of Gibbs Sports Amphibians, Alan Gibbs, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
History is littered with attempts to make fast, long-lasting amphibious cars, from the campy German Amphicar of the early 1960s to current companies that rework sports cars by hand for $200,000 or more. But Gibbs, a former diplomat and entrepreneur from New Zealand, says the Quadski is the first land vehicle for sale that can go more than 10 mph in water. A lightweight, fiberglass hull and front wheels that rise mechanically when the vehicle hits the water are among the tricks the Quadski uses.
Gibbs, who has made everything from bras to television sets over a long career in New Zealand and the U.K., launched Gibbs Sports Amphibians 16 years ago after building his own amphibious car and wondering if he could make it on a larger scale. Since then, the company has spent $200 million, built nine prototypes and amassed more than 300 patents.
"It seems so simple, but it's really difficult," Gibbs said.
The Quadski isn't the Gibbs' first vehicle. That honor belongs to the three-seat Aquada, which debuted in 2003 and goes 100 mph on land and 30 mph in the water. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson used an Aquada in 2004 when he set an amphibious vehicle speed record crossing the English Channel.
But the Aquada never went on sale. First its engine supplier, Rover, went out of business. Then U.S. safety regulators wouldn't approve it for street use because of several 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.