After Years of Teasing, Gibbs is Finally Ready to Produce an Amphibian

The Quadski can travel 45 mph on land or water.

We fire up the Gibbs Quadski – the world’s first production, planing amphibious vehicle – and head straight for the water. Just as the tires start to get wet, we instinctively grab the brake lever because, well, wheeled vehicles aren’t supposed to go in the water.

But then we remember that this wheeled vehicle is different. In fact, that the Quadski can roll into the water is precisely what makes it special.

As a Gibbs marketing representative said, “that’s when the magic happens.” After pushing a button to raise the wheels – the key feature that transforms the Quadski from land vehicle to boat – we squeeze the throttle lever and in as little as five seconds after entering the water, we’re on plane.

The Quadski has a storage compartment behind the seat that is designed to hold a full-face helmet.

Gibbs, founded by New Zealand industrialist Alan Gibbs, has been developing what it calls High Speed Amphibian technology for 15 years. But after teasing enthusiasts for years, it is finally going to start making one of them. The company has spent $200 million – funded entirely by Gibbs and his partner Neil Jenkins – developing the HSA technology.

Forty-five miles per hour in the water, the same on land. And a transition between the two in as little as five seconds. That’s what Gibbs has said the Quadski would do and finally is ready to deliver after years of promises.

At a party ahead of a press conference to officially introduce the Quadski, Alan Gibbs said it was never his intention to spend that much money developing the technology. Initially, he figured development would cost $25 million. But he said everyone needs a hobby, and he’s had more fun doing this than he would have pursuing other hobbies.

“I think this beats golf,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs is convinced that the company is going to make a lot of money selling amphibians.

The Quadski won't keep up with the most extreme ATVs or PWCs, except when one of those single-purpose vehicles tries to follow it into the water or out.

“I’ve never seen a better business opportunity on Earth,” Gibbs said. And he ought to know, having been involved in everything from car dealers to telecommunications to clothing manufacturing in New Zealand.

Starting this month, Gibbs will have a chance to start recouping his investment.

So what it’s like to drive the first vehicle to use Gibbs’ HSA technology?

A year ago, we had a chance to take a quick spin on a Quadski prototype and came away thinking that it needed more pop “out of the hole.” Problem solved. Gibbs completely redesigned the jet and impeller, making it bigger to provide more thrust.

Now, the Quadski feels powerful from rest. It gets on plane quickly and easily achieves top speed. Power comes from a 160-horsepower 1.3-liter four cylinder lifted straight out of a BMW K1300 motorcycle.

The ride is smooth and the Quadski feels well balanced, although our test drive was on a mirror-smooth lake, so we can’t say how well it handles rough water. It carves smooth turns, although the shallow vee of its hull means it doesn’t turn as well as the best-handling personal watercraft.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Quadski is Gibbs’ insistence that it doesn’t need four-wheel drive. Will the Quadski be able to hoist itself out of the water on slick or steep transition zones? Unfortunately, our test didn’t include any difficult spots on which to test the Quadski.

Gibbs said the combination of the wheels with a limited-slip differential and the jet are enough to power the Quadski out of the water.

The company says that rear-wheel drive – with a limited-slip differential – combined with the jet are plenty to push the Q up any suitable landing.

Now, let’s check out the other half of the Quadski equation. It’s time to put the wheels back down and see what it can do on the trails. As easy as it is to go in the water, it’s just as easy to exit. After coming off plane, toggle the wheels down. Since the jet is always engaged, we can still power through the water until the wheels catch ground and help propel the vehicle out of the water.

ATVs require far less power than PWCs, but the Quadski uses the same 1.3-liter BMW four cylinder nestled under the seat for motivation on land. Gibbs’ solution is to cut engine power while on land to about half, meaning it produces about 80 horsepower in land mode.

Despite the cut in power, the Quadski accelerates quickly and easily hits its 45 mph top speed. Even with the limited-slip diff and the reduced power output, the Q still willingly kicks out its tail end under power.

The ride is very smooth and the single-seat Quadski always feels stable. At 126 inches in length and 63 inches wide, it ought to.

Gibbs uses BMW’s constant-mesh six-speed manual transmission, but mounts its own automated clutch. Shifting is by a toggle switch on the left handlebar. There is no full automatic mode. Computers prevent the operator from over-revving the engine. It also automatically downshifts as the vehicle slows. It will not upshift at the rev limiter, either.

Gibbs uses the engine computer to cut power in half when the Quadski is on land.

Does a vehicle with a 45-mph top speed need a six-speed tranny? Not really. Three would be plenty. In water mode, the Q uses third gear.

Gibbs has been using a Polaris Sportsman 800 as a chase vehicle at its test site. The smaller Sportsman’s engine makes 54 horsepower and doesn’t feel as quick as the Quadski.

Many buyers will be tempted to try to eliminate the governor and coax the full 160 horses out of the engine on land. Better get an advanced computer-engineering degree, because you’re going to need it. Gibbs Chairman Neil Jenkins described the Quadski as tamper-proof.

The cut in power does not stop the fun on land. Even with a limit-slip diff, the Quadski allows a little tail-out antics in turns.

Here’s what the Quadski is not: It is not the ultimate rock hopper ATV. And it’s also not going to out-handle the most extreme personal watercraft. But simply by definition, it is a better ATV than any other PWC and it is a better PWC than any other all-terrain vehicle.

The Quadski has easy-to-use controls. The learning curve to operate it is no more difficult than any ATV or personal watercraft.

Criticisms? The Quadski features a single large dial for speed with an LCD readout in the lower right corner for other information such as tachometer and gear number. The LCD is virtually unreadable while moving. Gibbs officials said production versions would have a more legible LCD, but it’s still too small to see easily. A separate analog tachometer would be more useful.

Then again, even making reduced power on land, the Quadski is rarely wanting for power, so being in just the right gear isn’t all that important.

Also, there are several exposed screws on the body. While it’s a matter of taste, the Quadski would look better with hidden fasteners.

But nothing detracts from what the Quadski represents.

As Alan Gibbs said, “We’ve obliterated the separation between land and sea transportation.” In fact, Gibbs said the company can make virtually any land vehicle into an amphibian with its technology and currently is working on five as-yet unshown amphibians using HSA technology.

In the case of the Quadski, instead of having an ATV and a PWC, you can now have one vehicle that is both.

Without getting off the vehicle, you can go from fishing in the middle of the bay to riding the trails. Instead of leaving your PWC at the beach of a remote island, go farther on a Quadski. Forget the trouble of trailering and launching a PWC, you can drive into the water right at the beach. Instead of storing an ATV and a PWC on a trailer, you store one vehicle.

While the exact price has not been set, Gibbs said it will be “about” $40,000. The company will begin taking orders at soon. Deliveries are expected to begin this month.

Now here’s the problem for everyone who doesn’t live in the eastern United States for that matter. With a plan to build just 1,000 of the machines in the first year, Gibbs will limit sales to just five or six dealers, all of which will be in the east of the Rocky Mountains. It expects to have as many as 20 dealers within a year. Gibbs expects some buyers to purchase vehicles here and bring them to their own part of the globe.

The decision to limit production makes sense when you look at Gibbs’ situation.

As a brand-new manufacturer building a product unlike anything else in existence in a brand new factory, the company wants to make sure the Quadski performs up to expectations before it ramps up production to 5,000 to 6,000 per year. The price is likely to come down as the company realizes economies of scale. How far could the price come down? Gibbs would like to get the price to the high 20s.

The Quadski is just the start. The company is also taking orders for its Phibian, a 30-foot amphibian aimed at first responders, as well as the Humdinga, a 21-foot amphibian aimed at those who need to traverse extremely difficult terrain. Variations on the Quadski are also expected, most likely with room for more than one rider. Besides straddle-style vehicles such as the Quadski, the platform seems to be big enough to spawn a side-by-side utility terrain vehicle.

And, once it can clear more significant U.S. government regulatory hurdles, the company will build an amphibious car, called the Aquada. Bryan Laviolette is the founder and editor of Follow him on twitter @FastAmphibians.

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