Personal Hovercraft Lets You Rise Above Gridlock (and Everything Else)

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- A traffic-snarled commute to work isn't fun for anyone.

But for most of us, there are only a few alternatives -- carpool, bike, public transportation or perhaps scrapping the drive altogether to telecommute.

For those with deep pockets, however, the luxury set for whom money is no object, Mercier-Jones is proposing another alternative: The hovercraft.

Think of Luke Skywalker's vehicle in Star Wars and you're not far off, except the Mercier-Jones version is far more modern, sleek and sportier, like a hovering Tesla or Ferrari.

"We are pleased to lift the veil on the future of personal transportation," says Mercier-Jones CEO and co-founder Michael Mercier, who boasts that his hybrid-electric hovercraft, which sells for $75,000, is going to revolutionize personal transportation.

The vehicle is not yet street legal, but that hasn't slowed initial sales of the just-launched craft. The first 10 pre-ordered vehicles will be delivered to customers May 15, says Mercier-Jones' James Toland. Orders have come from all over the country and world -- Atlanta, Ga.; Houston, Texas; and Lake Geneva, Wis.; as well as Dubai, Russia, China, Germany and the U.K.

After delivery, Mercier-Jones will make another 50.

Where will hovercrafts be driven if not on or, well, above busy streets?

"It goes on every surface known to man -- water, ice, slush, pavement -- and that's the beauty of hovercraft," Toland says. But the company is serious about seeing the hovercraft eventually working its way down Main Street.

"It's a fun toy," Toland says. "And we have visions of being able to produce a street-legal version in the future."

"We're following the Tesla sales model, coming to market with the ultimate version of our supercraft that will penetrate the luxury market and then trickle down to power sports -- and then, separate to that, the search and rescue community -- and then yes, down to middle-class America," he says. "There will always be the high-end version with all the features and over-the-top customization. Then we will have additional models for other prices."

The current high-end version includes such niceties as an Android-driven central touchscreen display, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, hands-free phone integration, custom wood and carbon fiber accents, tandem two-passenger seating, custom interior and seat upholstery and refrigerated personal drink wells.

The hovercraft's top speed is estimated at more than 80 miles per hour, Toland says. Speed freaks may be interested to know that the carbon-fiber body Mercier-Jones hovercraft has 250 pounds of thrust and a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.208. It also has a hybrid electric drivetrain, a liquid-cooled dual-rotary engine and alternative fuel conversion packages for diesel, propane, ethanol and natural gas.

"Hovercrafts universally are very smooth because they ride on a cushion of air. You can go over any surface -- it doesn't know and it doesn't care -- high seas, choppy waters, any terrain whatsoever, swamps, grass," Toland says.

They're also very quiet.

With insulated compartments and proprietary technology that eliminate much of the noise associated with traditional hovercrafts, Toland says, "Our craft is not loud. It's like a small lawnmower or leaf blower. You can talk over it."

If you want a test drive before making a commitment, that can be done in Chicago, where the company is based. If you're smitten, a hovercraft can be yours for a 10% downpayment, with the remainder due 30 days before delivery.

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