“Oneth by land and twoth by sea,” said the American colonists of the British. But now you can go both ways in the same versatile vehicle, says Brit Neil Jenkins, who wants to take the U.S. by storm with an amphibious car.
He's working on setting up a dealer network to sell an impending production version of the Aquada, a car-boat he designed. It can travel 110 mph (177 km/h) on land and 30 mph (48 km/h) on water.
“We'd like to sell them through an existing dealership network, such as Penske (Automotive Group), or establish our own dealership network, but that's a lot more work,” says Jenkins, president and CEO of U.K.-based Gibbs Technologies Ltd.
The firm has opened a U.S. office in Troy, MI. It plans to locate a plant in the U.S. to build the Aquada, which currently exists in prototype form. Potential locations for the plant are Georgia, Michigan, Virginia and Texas.
Gibbs expects to start selling the vehicle by 2009. Initial plans are to sell 1,000 to 5,000 units a year through 20-40 dealers. Company research indicates annual deliveries could reach 100,000 units in five years.
“We're working on a business case to make it viable for dealers,” Jenkins says. “We hope to start recruiting dealers next year.”
It is a product that both boat and auto dealers could sell.
“I wouldn't rule out marine dealers, but it probably would be harder for them to go auto than for auto dealers to go marine,” says Jenkins, an engineer whose automotive work includes the Jaguar XJ220 super car.
The target price of the Aquada is $85,000, “which provides a good margin for dealers,” he says.
Demographically, buyers are expected to be age 30-55, with a household income of $100,000 and an interest in water sports “That works out to about 2.4 million people in the U.S.,” says Jenkins.
“Our market research indicates we would have no problem selling the product in volume,” he says. “But market research is just a guide. It's necessary to get into the market to find out what the market is.”
Boat-car vehicles are not new. For instance, from 1961 to 1969 a West German company, Industrie Werke Karlsruhe, built the Amphicar powered by an English Triumph engine.
Although they were head-turning novelties, the rap against previous amphibians was that they were unstable boats and sluggish cars.
Jenkins and Gibbs Technologies founder Alan Gibbs are out to change that.
Initial design work on their high-performance amphibian began 10 years ago. Jenkins assembled a team of engineers to bridge the gap between car and boat designs.
The team developed unique frame and body designs and achieved a number of technological breakthroughs, says Jenkins. Propellers moved the old amphibians in water. Jet propulsion powers the new one.
It takes about 10 seconds to adjust the Aquada from one mode of travel to the other. An unusual feature is a middle-mounted steering wheel. Jenkins says that only takes a few minutes to get used to and poses no safety hazards.
In the last three years, Jenkins has received two prestigious U.K. engineering awards — the Churchill Medal and the Sir Henry Royce Medal — for development work on his high-speed amphibian.