Wet and wow: The amphibious Humdinga

ST Kinetics clinches regional distribution rights to Gibbs amphibious vehicles

Singapore cannot afford to have many more roads. So there will always be restrictions on car ownership and usage. But what if amphibious vehicles were allowed to be registered here?

With one, someone living in Sentosa Cove could literally cruise to his office in Changi Business Park in the morning peak without encountering a single ERP gantry or traffic jam. In the afternoon, he can make his way to Tanah Merah Country Club for golf - either by road or sea - and then head home via the waters off the east coast. Again, no jam.

That is one of the propositions of speciality vehicle manufacturer and distributor ST Kinetics, which has just secured the regional franchise for Gibbs, maker of multi-purpose amphibious vehicles.

The first two products are the Humdinga, an extreme 4x4 that becomes a speedboat at the touch of a button, and the Quadski, a quad-bike that transforms into a jet-ski in water.

The Humdinga looks like a cross between a Hummer and a landing craft. It will be assembled and sold by ST Kinetics, and can be configured for a wide range of purposes - including fire- fighting, border patrol, flood relief and leisure.

Engine choices include two diesel V8s and a petrol V8. But since the vehicle is a permanent four-wheel-drive and weighs 2.75 tonnes empty, diesel probably makes more sense.

On land, the Humdinga will scale slopes steeper than 40 degrees and max out at around 137kmh. In water, it attains a very respectable top speed of 72.5kmh, thanks to twin jets weighing only about 30kg apiece but each putting out more than 1 tonne of thrust.

The six-seater's cockpit has bits of Range Rover (steering wheel, gear lever). A button on the dash tucks the wheels away when the vehicle is afloat, and the engine switches to driving the water jets.

The driver, however, continues to drive it like a road vehicle, using the steering wheel and the accelerator pedal.

ST Kinetics sees huge potential for the Humdinga as an emergency relief or law enforcement vehicle, but reckons there will also be demand from well-heeled individuals who want something other than another Porsche Cayenne or Ferrari 458.

The Humdinga will probably cost more. Before taxes and COE, ST Kinetics estimates it will be between US$500,000 (S$633,680) and US$600,000. Which means it could have an on-the-road price tag of as much as $1.9 million.

The Quadski is more affordable. At around US$50,000 before taxes and COE, it could be priced below $90,000 if the authorities classify it as a motorcycle, and around $150,000 if it is deemed a car.

Powered by a BMW K1300 engine, the rear-wheel-drive single-seater has a top speed of 72kmh on land and in water. Once afloat, the wheels tuck away via a switch, and a single water jet takes over.

The Quadski looks like what its name suggests - a cross between a quad-bike and jet-ski. Its composite hull is made from a one-piece mould, and it is fitted with a powerful, lightweight and compact water jet that gets the Quadski up to planing speeds in a jiffy.

Both the Quadski and Humdinga are creations of New Zealander businessman Alan Gibbs and British automotive veteran Neil Jenkins (who worked on delectable products such as the Jaguar XJ220 and Bentley Continental).

Gibbs undoubtedly improved on the water jet which another Kiwi, William Hamilton, invented in the 1950s. The Gibbs jets are said to be lighter, more compact and yet as powerful as bigger jets.

The compactness of the jets allows for the other proposition of Gibbs products - full-size wheels which can be retracted, so as to achieve better hydrodynamics.

Their first product was the Aquada, an amphibious convertible that was unveiled in 2003. In 2004, Virgin boss Richard Branson crossed the English Channel between Britain and France in the Aquada in a record 90 minutes.

Unfortunately, none was sold, presumably because of its £150,000 price tag, which would have bought you a Ferrari 550 with change to spare.

Today, the Humdinga and Quadski are targeted at commercial users. Besides potential clients in the civil defence, law enforcement and para-military sectors, ST Kinetics sees possibilities in the tourism field as well. And, of course, wealthy individuals who want something unique and fun.

christan@sph.com.sg