DETROIT – Alan Gibbs hasn’t abandoned his dream of taking to market his firm’s Aquada, a versatile vehicle that travels on land and water. But he’s had some wake-up calls.

An alarming incident involving a prototype worried him about potential product liability, the founder of namesake Gibbs Technologies tells WardsAuto.  

“This joker was testing one off the coast of Cornwall, England,” Gibbs says. “He got in trouble in the Atlantic Ocean, halfway to France.”

The Aquada is a 15-ft. (4.5-m) vehicle, and not designed for far offshore oceanic travel, he say. “We started considering risks involving people who think they can do anything.”

Then there’s a boatload of regulations, some contradicting each other, that thwarted the would-be product launch of the 3-seater. “We have all sorts of issues there,” says Gibbs Chairman Neil Jenkins, who also is the Aquada’s chief engineer.

For example, as a car it needs airbags, but those tend to deploy in choppy waters. Laws forbid installing an on-off airbag switch.

Gibbs Technology is struggling to comply with regulations from the National Highway Transportation Safety Admin., Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard and others. And that’s just in the U.S. Other countries have theirs, making the Aquada a compliance nightmare.

So the dream boat-car is in dry dock. In its place, at least for now, Gibbs Technologies is introducing a somewhat less ambitious but equally innovative amphibious vehicle called the Quadski.

Unlike the Aquada, it is less car and more a blend of all-terrain vehicle and personal watercraft. Like the Aquada, its wheels retract and jet-drive system engages in seconds at the push of a button for water use.

Alan Gibbs touts the 1-seater as the world’s first high-speed sports amphibian. With production scheduled to start soon in Auburn Hills, MI, the Quadski is slated to go on sale in the U.S. next month.

Top speed is 45 mph (72 km/h) on both land and water. Ferdinand Porsche and other notable auto engineers have designed amphibious vehicles, but none this fast, says Gibbs. “In water, they went no faster than twice the speed of walking. That’s not much fun.”

It’s an engineering challenge to create a vehicle that is speedy on both land and water, Jenkins says, citing tricky issues involving the suspension, cooling, exhaust and electrical systems.

The Quadski will appeal to recreational enthusiasts “who want to have fun and who have $40,000,” Gibbs says, referring to the vehicle’s sticker price.

He is a New Zealand native who decided to locate Quadski production facilities in the U.S. “We thought, ‘Where in the world would people be interested in a high-speed motor vehicle for use on land and water?’ The answer is America, which has the money, water and land.”

Locating research and production facilities in metro Detroit made business sense, Jenkins says. “This is the center of the auto industry, has a huge talent pool and almost every supplier has an office in Detroit.”  

Starting in the U.S., the company expects to sell about 1,000 units in the first year through a dealer network that’s still under development. “We’re very keen on talking to people who want to be dealers,” Jenkins says.

Marine motorsports dealers are naturals for such a product, but he envisions signing on some auto retailers, too.

Because it is powered by a 175-hp BMW Motorrad engine and transmission, the Quadski particularly may appeal to BMW car and motorcycle dealers, Jenkins says. “I’ve spoken to a BMW dealer who is interested in expanding his product offerings.”

Gibbs speaks of his company eventually offering a range of amphibians, including larger vehicles for use by military units and first-responder emergency crews worldwide.

“We intend to make everything you can think of that’s amphibious,” he says. “Most people wouldn’t do what we are doing, because they don’t know the market. But entrepreneurs are strange people. We think we have an attractive brand.”

Gibbs hasn’t given up on some day selling the auto-boat combo. “We will be back with cars, don’t worry. We’re planning a new Aquada.”

For now, he describes himself and Jenkins as “the proud owners” of 45 original Aquada prototypes.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com