I'm all for a local success story, so this is pretty big. Gibbs Amphitrucks, a small manufacturer in Auburn Hills, is partnering with a Singaporean manufacturer to mass-produce Humdingas, a half-car, half-boat used for emergency transport and disaster relief. But they look amazing, and we can't wait to drive one for ourselves.
You might know Gibbs if you are into the tiny but lucrative market of amphibious vehicles: Wheelers that are just as capable on land as they are in the water. Gibbs' most popular product, the BMW-powered Quadski, was just featured on the most recent "Top Gear"UK racing an Alfa Romeo 4C.
A few years back, Gibbs unleashed its Humdinga prototype, a bulky behemoth resembling more of a speedboat than a jetski. Its aim, other than another toy for those who've got the money, is for rescue operations. And Southeast Asia is just the market for this expansion.
With occasional tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters ravaging Asian countries, Gibbs will license its Humdinga technology to Singapore Technologies Kinetics, which will produce a run of the vehicles for 12 years.
The Humdinga is powered by a 300hp turbo diesel that pushes it up to 30 mph on land and water. It's not terribly fast, but it's the only such vehicle able to travel faster than 9 mph on water. Gibbs also has developed its own power-takeoff unit that keeps revs going on both land and water.
The jets are lighter than traditional boat jets and the hull is lighter to accommodate the retractable wheels when the Humdinga goes waterbound. The hull is also raised higher for land ground clearance, but have special grooving that make it easier to turn in water. STK is exploring whether a carbon-fiber hull can be used in the Asian production vehicles.
Since there are only a small number of amphibious manufacturers, Graham Jenkins, the company's spokesperson, welcomes any competition — or would like bigger mainstream automakers to explore the amphibious market. They haven't done so, he says, because it's a gamble.
"They're fairly risk-averse, and they have been for a fairly long time," he says. "They do take some risks and some challenges and some things, but essentially what we're asking for is this technology can do is a massive change to the capabilities to their products. And because it's so new, there's no proven market to this."
There are only handful of pre-production Humdingas in existence, Jenkins says, so the Humdingas going into production in Asia will be the first of many production agreements. Gibbs hasn't said with whom, but all those deals are still being hammered out.
Gibbs also makes the Phibian rescue vehicle, but the Humdinga proved to be more popular with investors. Neither of those might be as readily available for your garage or dock, but the Quadski is coming to more dealers soon, as Gibbs will expand its dealer network over the next year.
Once the weather breaks, we'll try get behind the wheel of one. Stay tuned.