IF all goes according to plan, the 2013 Quadski will be the first amphibious vehicle from the Gibbs companies to make it into the sales distribution chain. But it won't be the first introduced as ready-for-market.
In 2003 Gibbs launched the Aquada, an amphibious three-seat sports car. Aside from placing the driver in the center position, the Aquada looked like a normal roadgoing automobile and was said to be capable of speeds faster than 100 m.p.h. on pavement and 30 m.p.h. in the water.
Although it didn't meet United States environmental and safety standards, the Aquada did meet European requirements, according to Neil G. Jenkins, chairman of Gibbs.
The Aquada was, for the most part, well received. In Britain, the magazine Auto Express said it was "more fun to drive than a lot of saloons," using the British term for sedans. Time Magazine named it to a list of the best inventions of 2003. In 2004, Richard Branson crossed the English Channel in an Aquada, setting a record and generating media attention.
The Aquada was built around the V-6 engine of the Land Rover Freelander. But by the time Aquadas rolled off the assembly line, future availability of the Rover engines was in doubt. According to Mr. Jenkins, the company had made almost 50 vehicles when the decision was made to shut down.
Mr. Jenkins said the company still owned those vehicles but would not sell them because it could not provide proper customer support. He added that the Aquada program had not been canceled; it was on the back burner until a new engine supplier was chosen and United States regulatory hurdles could be cleared.
Those hurdles are significant. According to Mr. Jenkins, the company is no longer interested in a market plan that would not include North America, but to meet federal safety standards the Aquada must be equipped with air bags and sensor systems able to withstand a saltwater environment. Those are not off-the-shelf components.
That's not all: while a catalytic converter is necessary to meet emission requirements for land-based vehicles, the heat generated by that device could exceed Coast Guard standards. Other problems remain to be solved, but Mr. Jenkins said that federal agencies and the Coast Guard were working with the company to resolve them.
Since the Aquada project was shelved in 2004, its reincarnation was announced at least once. In 2007, according to news reports, Gibbs said that the Aquada would be introduced in 2009 and priced at $85,000. Annual sales of 100,000 vehicles were projected.
In addition to Aquada and Quadski, Gibbs has developed two large vehicles for military and emergency first-responder use: the Humdinga and the Phibian. Mr. Jenkins said that both were ready for the marketplace and that the company was seeking a partner to produce them.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.