Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New amphibious truck targeted to first responders

New amphibious truck targeted to first responders

The Humdinga can transition between land and water within a few seconds.

By Bryan Laviolette, The Detroit Bureau

After more than a decade of false starts, Gibbs Technologies launched a high-speed amphibian that it says will change the way rescue crews respond in disaster situations.

With the dramatic backdrop of the Pentagon on one side and the Washington Monument just across the Potomac River, Gibbs recently gave a demonstration of Phibian, a 30-foot amphitruck, which will be road legal and capable of more than 80 mph on the highway and 30 mph in water. Like Gibbs’ other amphibians, the Phibian can transition between land and water in as little as 5 seconds.

“Natural disasters in recent memory, such as the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and elsewhere in Asia;  as well as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, illustrate the need for amphibians as capable, versatile and efficient as Phibian,” Gibbs Chairman Neil Jenkins said.

Gibbs is now taking orders for the Phibian, although no price was announced. It plans to begin delivering vehicles in 9 to 15 months.

In addition to the Phibian, Gibbs also announced that it would take orders for another vehicle, the Humdinga II, a 20-foot amphibian that is capable of reaching the most extreme and remote territory. Gibbs did not have the Humdinga on hand for the demonstration.

New amphibious

The Gibbs Phibian skims across the water on the Potomac River. The vehicle will be road legal and capable of more than 80 mph on the highway and 30 mph in water.

The Phibian prototype features twin 250-horsepowerSteyr marine diesel engines. It features four-wheel drive, but front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive can also be selected depending on conditions. In water, it is propelled by twin water jets.

The military has show interest in Gibbs’ amphibians. Technology for beach landing crafts hasn’t changed since World War II, Jenkins said.  

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 While Gibbs has not given specific locations where its products will be built, Jenkins did say that the Phibian would be built in the U.S. It has narrowed its choices for an assembly plant to Michigan, Texas, Florida and the Carolinas. The Humdinga will be built in the United Kingdom where the company is based. Gibbs’ primary research and development office and U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.

The company plans to announce a production location for the Phibian with the next several weeks.

The Phibian is a true multi-continent effort. Jenkins said it was conceived in the U.S., engineered in New Zealand and will be manufactured in the U.S. with some materials supplied out of the U.K.

 truck targeted to first respondersGibbs Technologies

When entering the water, the operator pushes a button preparing the amphibian for water entry. Once the vehicle determines that it has enough water depth to float, it raises the wheels and its ready to go on plane.

Gibbs gave demonstration rides on the Phibian to the media and dignitaries including the New Zealand ambassador to the U.S. and attorneys who are helping it obtain regulatory approval for its amphibians. Jenkins said that the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency have approved the Phibian and the company expects approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration within 6 months.

The Phibian’s introduction was timed to precede the annual conference of the American Society of Naval Engineers, which was also last week. Gibbs officials were scheduled for meetings about its vehicles in connection with the conference.  

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The announcement of the Phibian came as a bit of a surprise because the company is also working on the planned launch of the Quadski amphibian, which is a single-seat cross between an all-terrain vehicle and a personal watercraft. The Quadski is capable of 45 mph on land and water. Gibbs has said that the often-delayed Quadski would go into limited production this summer.

Gibbs said that the Quadski would be the first model produced by a new division it is calling Sport Amphibians.

Gibbs Technologies

The Gibbs Humdinga is 21.5 feet and is designed to extremely difficult and remote terrain,

The company also had one of its Aquada amphibious sports cars at the Phibian launch. That project is stuck on the back burner as Gibbs works to secure regulatory approval for it. Jenkins said approval for the Phibian and Humdinga was a little easier because they are classified as light-duty trucks rather than a passenger car, like the Aquada.

While the Phibian is targeted at first responders such as rescue crews and fire departments, Jenkins said it will be available for sale to the general public. The prototype shown in Arlington had what Gibbs calls a quarter cab, with seating for three people, but it can be ordered with no cab, half cab or full cab. The prototype’s deck has attachment points for a versatile range of uses.   

Jenkins said the hull and superstructure of the Phibian are carbon fiber. It weighs 4,500 pounds and has a payload capacity of 3,307 pounds. See below for full specifications.

Like the rest of its products, the Phibian uses proprietary technology that allows it to seamlessly transition between land and water. The primary technology is a system that decouples the drive axles and allows the wheels to pivot into the wheel wells. Raising the wheels out of the water enables Gibbs’ amphibians to reach plane in the water.  

The company has spent 15 years and 2 million man hours developing the HSA technology, investing $200 million into the project. The company was founded by New Zealander Alan Gibbs. Gibbs has largely funded the project on his own.

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