ARLINGTON, Va. – When they were growing up in New Zealand, Alan Gibbs would ask his children daily to “tell me something interesting.”
Gibbs’ daughter, Debbi, said her dad would challenge what they said to see if they could back it up. They learned to always be ready to defend their position on any topic. She called them “endless Alan challenges.”
Debbi Gibbs was in Washington last week representing her father at the media launch of the Gibbs Phibian, where the company founded by her father announced that it would begin taking orders for the Phibian and Humdinga, which are targeted at first responders, but will be available to the general public as well.
“It’s so tantalizing for people to see so many interpretations of the technology,” Debbi Gibbs said.
Her father founded the company in 1996 because he just wanted to go fishing. The New Zealand industrialist’s home is on the Kaipara Harbor, north of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island. The harbor is shallow, and retreating tides would make launching a boat difficult.
“I thought ‘I’m going to need to put wheels on a boat,’ ” Alan Gibbs, 72, said at a 2008 press conference at the company’s Auburn Hills, Mich., research and development center.
Gibbs tried to build something to solve his problem, but just ended up frustrated. Then he met another New Zealander who had developed a system that decouples the driveshafts and lifts the wheels into the wheel wells. This turned out to be the key technological hurdle for developing a truly amphibious vehicle.
Almost since the creation of the car, people have been trying to figure out how to be make them amphibious. But before Gibbs, the best anyone has done with a commercially available vehicle was the German Amphicar, but it was limited to just 7 mph in the water and fewer than 4,000 were built before the company went out of business.
The difference this time is what the company calls High Speed Amphibian technology.
“No one’s ever cracked the art of making them go fast on land and water,” Gibbs said at the 2008 press conference.
Gibbs has had several false starts and shattered plans for productions. The company said most of the problems have been related to supplier and regulatory problems.
Through it all, Alan Gibbs has continued to fund the company’s development of the HSA technology for a variety of vehicles including the Aquada sports car and Quadski amphibious all-terrain vehicle, Humdinga off-road truck and now the 30-foot Phibian transporter.
The company has about $200 million – most from Alan Gibbs’ own fortune – invested in development of the technology, even though it has yet to provide any vehicles to customers.
A former company employee once said privately that amphibious technology is a gift Alan Gibbs is giving the world. While others have tried to develop amphibians, no one has been successful solving the technical and regulatory issues inherent building such a unique concept.
When asked about her father’s persistence in sticking with the company, Debbi Gibbs snickered and said “He’s a determined man, my father.”