Like the Australian marsupial from which it takes its name, it isn't pretty, but it sure is functional. With a top speed of 100 kmh on the road, it's not as fast as its celebrated fellow amphibians such as the Gibbs Aquada or Rinspeed Splash. But it is capable of seven knots on the water, can withstand heavy seas, and it's hardcore four-wheel-drive capabilities will get you just about anywhere you can imagine going. Most remarkable though is the price - when production starts in mid-2005, the Platypus will sell for less than US$40,000.
"I have always felt that the personal amphibious car was a genre of vehicle yet to have its day", says Boyd Wyatt, the Australian designer / builder of the Platypus amphibious 4x4.
The Platypus, named after the duck-billed web-footed Australian mammal found on the banks of waterways in Eastern Australia, is even more adaptable than its namesake. It is road registrable and fully at home on the road, in the densest bushland, in swapland or waterways and can even handle two metre seas if needed.
"I love what Rinspeed and Aquada have done with their amphibious concepts, but I decided to make a vehicle that was affordable to the people who would really use them. I figure there's a vast market of people who live in coastal regions who want a genuine, working amphibious 4x4, not a high speed US$200,000 sportscar. So I set out to build such a vehicle under US$50,000 and I've done that with room to spare," he laughs.
"The German Amphicar that was produced in the 1960s sold 4000 units before it ceased production and that was only because it didn't meet American emission regulations - it was a very sought-after vehicle and is still prized by its owners today."
"I am certain that a large market exists for a utility amphibious vehicle, and I believe that market is much larger now than it was then."
"Just the growth of the recreational vehicle market around the world since then suggests that there will be a small but significant percentage of four wheel drive owners who want a vehicle that is not stopped in its tracks by a river. Having the ability to cross channels and waterways between islands opens up the recreational vehicle opportunities immensely, and that's the market we're intent on capturing.
"Once 4wd owners see and experience what an amphibian can do, they are hooked. It's a bit mind blowing at first to be so unrestricted in your driving and there is no better way to savour the great outdoors.
"Whilst I foresee the biggest segment of our forwards sales projections will be in the domestic recreation market, there are many other usages for the amphibian we have designed. For starters, the Platypus offers easy commuting in riverside cities or to nearby islands.
"It can be used by anyone who needs a car AND a boat to perform a task or deliver a service. With one vehicle that's capable in both areas, it offers much easier access to remote locations without having to load and unload goods. So it's ideal for any island communities or communities where water breaks up the geography. It would be ideal for aid distribution in countries too poor for helicopters. The list goes on ... tourism, resort transportation, adventure tours, government, police, search and rescue, emergency services, utility companies...
"Now it's not perfect at both water and land - a good amphibian will always be a compromise on the best attributes of a car and a boat, further hampered by road rules designed for standard passenger cars. We worked hard in designing, testing and redesigning to overcome the problems from the first vehicle and to optimise the outcome on both land and water.
"After three years we now have a vehicle capable of 100 kmh on land, and 7 knots on the water and that speed keeps rising as we tweak and improve the systems."
"When the testing and appraisal of design and technologies began three years ago, the first step was to take an existing Chinese military 4x4 amphibious vehicle and modify it.
"When we started the project, we thought we could use the Chinese amphibian as a base and build a viable vehicle with extensive modifications. It had some great features but after testing and modifying it substantially, we had concerns about its weight, and many mechanical and production issues.
"Ask any of the automotive manufacturers and they'll tell you that Australians are far harder on their vehicles than any other nationality. We have a lot of very rugged country to cover and we don't mess about getting there.
"It was then that I decided that I had to start from scratch and build a machine designed for the task.
"The first step was to select a donor vehicle for the mechanicals. We went through a detailed examination of more than thirty 4x4's, scrutinising each one against a check list of the requirements we'd developed using the prototype vehicle. The only vehicle that had ticks against all the requirements was the Suzuki Jimny. In summary, though there's a lot more to it than this, it's very light, very reasonably priced and very capable off road.
"It has simple mechanicals with a modern engine meeting all emission requirements. Once we'd chosen the base vehicle, we went about translating the year of testing in real world conditions with the old prototype into a new design based on the Jimny chassis.
"The twin tunnel hull / deck and internal sections are all composite materials and since we started with the first military-based prototype, we've halved the weight for the same displacement potential and achieved a very stable watercraft.
"The composite construction means there's no corrosion, it's ultra strong and it's far easier to form the complicated shapes we wanted. The build process actually makes the chassis and hull combination far stronger and more rigid than the original vehicle due to our new encapsulation technique.
"One of the targets was to ensure most the original Jimny geometry and systems were not changed. We figured there was no point redoing what the Suzuki engineers had already spent thousands of hours getting right.
"The vehicle retains all of the original Jimny road characteristics and is still very capable as a 4x4, and there's a host of aftermarket gear available for the Jimny.
"We chose a jet drive for the water over a propeller for ground clearance, safety and neatness in the off-road environment plus plenty of thrust without cavitation problems.
"The jet is a 7.5" purpose-built unit with a Power Take Off (PTO) from the transfer case means the car's engine drives the jet and there's no need for a second power unit, as many amphibians use. The aim was for simplicity, no needless complexity and cost-efficiency of manufacture and the result is a water-going craft that is comfortably capable of seven knots with speed improving all the time.
"Simplicity of design to keep reliability up and cost down has been one of the design foundations. If any part was getting complicated, we got rid of it and designed something better from scratch.
"The safety aspects are paramount and took the majority of our efforts. On water it must be able to handle rough conditions with stability and ease, and from our experience, few amphibians of the past have ever done this.
"Our twin tunnel design with light weight and high free board accomplishes this. Some clever ducting and bilge design ensures that any water that may get in - it's unlikely but possible - gets pumped straight out. A full wave dump over the bow in a one to two metre swell is easily handled. The ducting system also takes care of one of the major problems with amphibians - that of overheating. Our new design makes sure it stays cool in all conditions. Not once has it overheated in all our testing both on land and driving the jet hard on water in conditions up to 42 degrees.
"Our initial design of gull wing doors with no doors in the hull has been retained for our rough water version of the new model. Once its all hatched up you can survive seas that would scare much bigger vessels. You wouldn't do it for fun but it will get you home safely should the need arise, and that was our aim.
"The vehicle is nearly ready for production and we're tweaking the system and expect to begin producing vehicles before mid-year with an expected delivery price of AUD$55,000.
"We're now seeking agents and local manufacturers worldwide to get the Platypus swimming all over the world.
Boyd can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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