UK-based Gibbs Technologies is forming three new companies to produce and market a broad range of amphibious vehicles in North America.

Two production-ready vehicles planned for introduction in the US in 2009 were displayed at a news conference in Detroit on Wednesday.

The Quadski, an all-terrain vehicle, will be manufactured and sold by Gibbs Sports Amphibians. The Aquada, a vehicle that combines the handling of a sports car with an ability to travel at more than 30 miles per hour on water, that has been publicly demonstrated on the River Thames in central London, will be built and marketed by Gibbs Amphibians.

A third company, Gibbs Military Amphibians, will have responsibility for the development of high-speed amphibians (HSA) for military use under an agreement with Lockheed Martin. Gibbs and Lockheed Martin plan to unveil several military concept vehicles based on Gibbs’ patented technology later this summer.

Gibbs Technologies currently is considering locations for technical centres, sales offices and manufacturing plants in several states including Georgia, Virginia, Michigan and Texas, according to Alan Gibbs, the firm’s founder and chairman. New Zealander Gibbs trained as an engineer and, in his first commercial venture during the 1960s, built a prototype of what was intended to be New Zealand’s first indigenous car (though it never made production).

“We’ll finalise our bricks-and-mortar decisions within the next several months and expect to begin new-model production in North America late next year,” he said.

Gibbs added that the recruitment of executives for key management positions at each of the three new companies began last month. Employment at facilities in North America is expected to top 1,500 within three years.

“Our plans for North America are ambitious, aggressive and achievable,” Gibbs said. “We’re exploring a variety of manufacturing, supplier and dealer-distribution options, as well as partnerships with potential investors and licensees for our technology.

“Our market research indicates that a line-up of high-speed amphibious vehicles similar to the Aquada could generate annual sales volumes of 100,000 or more within five years.”

Developed at a cost of more than $US100m, both Aquada and Quadski are scheduled for introduction in the US during the first half of 2009. Fully homologated for sale in Europe, a fleet of 10 Aquadas currently is undergoing tests in southeastern Michigan.

“A commercially viable high-speed amphibious vehicle has eluded auto manufacturers, entrepreneurs and inventors for more than 100 years,” Gibbs noted. “Recent developments in light-weight materials, engine technology and vehicle architecture, however, have enabled us to accomplish what many believed to be impossible.”

Initial design work on the Aquada began in Detroit in 1997 with a team of more than 20 engineers. Product development later transferred to Coventry in the UK, where the company tapped into a unique blend of motorsports, aerospace and OEM engineering talent. More than 1m man-hours have gone into the development of the company’s technology.

In 2004, a Gibbs prototype HSA crossed the English Channel in a record- setting time of less than two hours. During tests in Europe and North America, prototype amphibians have traveled at speeds of more than 110 mph on land and 45 mph on water. Both Quadski and Aquada also have the unique ability to transition from land-to-water or water-to-land in five seconds.

“Although Quadski and Aquada will be among the first products introduced with our HSA technology, we’re actively exploring a variety of other commercial and military applications,” Gibbs added.

Gibbs protects its amphibious vehicle technology with more than 70 patents and also has a number of patents pending, according to Neil Jenkins, the company’s president and CEO. Jenkins merged his company, krafthaus, with Gibbs in 1999 and his work in developing high-speed amphibious-vehicle technology recently received the UK’s prestigious Churchill Medal for innovation and engineering excellence.

“Since the late 1890’s, there have been literally hundreds of attempts to build a commercially viable amphibious vehicle,” Gibbs noted. “The Magrelen Amphibium built in Denmark in 1899 is credited with being one of the first motorised attempts, while the Hobbycar produced in France between 1992 and 1995 was one of the last.”

Porsche built an estimated 5,000 Type 166 Schwimmwagens for the German army between 1940 and 1944 (and the few remaining World War Two survivors are much prized by collectors).

Later, Hans Trippel manufactured and sold nearly 4,000 Amphicars during the 1960s. The USA also produced thousands of amphibious vehicles during World War II – including the famous ‘Duck’ used during the D-Day beach invasion in Normandy and during the Pacific island campiagn. None were capable of speeds of more than 7mph on water.

Gibbs Technologies is headquartered in Nuneaton near Coventry in the UK, where it has research and development facilities, a prototype manufacturing plant, as well as styling, engineering and marine-test facilities.