Besides your truck, a commercial-grade mower is probably the most expensive piece of equipment you own. They can cost from hundreds to more than ten thousand dollars.
If you’ve made the decision that it’s time to buy a new mower—or more than one—you know that it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. There are so many options . . . Stand-on? Walk-behind? Rider? Gas, diesel or propane-powered? What features are available and how comfortable is it to use?
All these questions point to the big one: “If I buy a new mower, will it make me and my crew more productive?” The answer is yes.
Competition for contractor dollars has spurred innovation. All the major mower companies and engine manufacturers are striving to increase your productivity. They know that if they build a superior mower, with better fuel efficiency and ergonomics, landscape professionals will cut a swath to their door.
Electronic fuel injection
So what’s new for 2013? Not much is really new; however, there are some substantial improvements. One of these is Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI). New mowers will be less fuel-thirsty, due to EFI.
“More than 40 percent of our product goes out of here with an EFI engine,” said Tim Cromley, marketing manager for Walker Mowers in Ft. Collins, Colorado. “If you’ve got multiple machines running 700 hours a year, EFI could save you as much as one dollar an hour per machine. That adds up pretty fast.”
Chris Hannan, marketing manager for Toro in Bloomington, Minnesota, concurs. “We received very good feedback about fuel savings with EFI technology. Some contractors claim upwards of 25 percent. Because of demand, we’re expanding EFIs into a wider number of zeroturn riding mowers for 2013.”
EFI offers other advantages, from potential extended engine life to care-free carburetors. It’s also better for the environment.
Alongside EFI, companies are boosting alternative fuel offerings as a way to counteract the rising price of gas. Some landscape companies are working on their own with alternative fuels, such as ethanol and biofuels. However, propane and diesel continue to be most prominent.
“When gasoline reaches four dollars a gallon, we get a lot more requests for propane,” said Daryn Walters, director of marketing for Exmark Manufacturing in Beatrice, Nebraska.
Troy Blewett, director/dealer of marketing at Ferris Industries, Munnsville, New York, offers this comment: “If you have really high gas prices, propane starts to get more and more attractive. Plus, some contractors have a client base that wants alternative fuels.”
You can’t talk about diesel without discussing Tier 4i, part of a set of phased-in EPA diesel engine emissions regulations scheduled to be implemented beginning in January 2013. They will affect all diesel engines over 25 horsepower.
Walters says that his company is “very supportive” of the new regulations, and expects to make the transition, “as will the rest of the industry.
“Our engineering team worked with Kubota to help develop a diesel engine for our mowers, the Pro-Turn 400, which should work very efficiently at 25 horsepower,” says Steve Demsien, vice president of marketing for Ariens, Inc., in Brillion, Wisconsin. (Gravely is a division of Ariens).
Over at Grasshopper Mowers in Moundridge, Kansas, marketing coordinator Ray Garvey, voices a healthy skepticism. “A quick market survey of what’s commercially viable in propane and battery-powered mowers finds few success stories, except in very special circumstances. If an alternative fuel doesn’t reduce costs and increase productivity, it’s not really sustainable. We like clean diesel; it’s readily available, affordable and without federal taxes for non-road use.”
How about battery power? Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas, makers of Hustler and Big Dog mowers, introduced the battery-powered Hustler Zeon a few years ago. It is the first electric zero-turn commercial mower. It could operate about 70 minutes before needing a charge.
“Battery is definitely on our radar for the commercial market, but we don’t have any specific plans to share at this time,” said Sean Dwyer, global manager for Husqvarna, Charlotte, North Carolina. “We’re introducing a battery-powered riding mower this year for the homeowner market.”
Garvey, Blewett, and White concur that range and power are still big battery-power issues. White says it bluntly; in his opinion, the technology isn’t yet there.
Ergonomics is the science of making things more efficient, comfortable and safe for humans to use.
One of the companies investing heavily in this area is Exmark. Their philosophy is that the more comfortable the operator is, the more productive he’ll be.
“We have taken—and will continue to take—a very different position on comfort,” Walters said. “We look at comfort as part of the entire package, an absolute necessity.”
Gravely is looking at the same considerations, according to Demsien. “Making mowers more ergonomic makes them more efficient overall. Greater efficiency means better use of time, and we all know that time is money—and gas. “Obviously, the more efficient the mower, the more money you’re going to make off of every tank of fuel.”
The Gravely Pro-Turn 400 from Ariens features an air-suspension seat with comfort foam and added seat isolation. The air pressure can be adjusted with the touch of a button. The idea is to make the seat feel more like an office chair than a standard mower seat.
This year, Grasshopper introduced a new ergonomic feature to dual-lever control: the Quik- Adjust Tilt Lever design. This new feature is standard on some models, and is optional on others. This new design has nine inches of fore and aft adjustment.
It allows for quick adjustment without tools and accommodates the reach of multiple operators.
Another ergonomic feature is the ‘Ultimate Suspension Ride (USR) Cordura Comfort Zone’ seat with fold-up armrests. The USR seat includes ‘iso-suspension,’ a coilspring suspension that Grasshopper claims is more stable and “maintenance-free.” It has variable density foam with padded armrests, backrest and lumbar support. The Cordura exterior repels moisture and remains cool to the touch, even in the hot sun.
Stand-on mowers continue to grow in popularity. Wright Manufacturing in Frederick, Maryland, was the first company to introduce a stand-on mower. It started a new trend for cutting lawns. Easier to maneuver than a zero-turn ride-on mower, the stand-on created a special niche in the professional market.
“We continue to refine our product line,” said Bill White, CEO and founder. “Recently, we’ve improved the steering control units of our stand-on mowers, as in our most recent model, the Stander X. We’ve been adding bearings for smoother operation.”
“Stand-on is the fastest-growing category in the commercial mower field. You can move faster when you’re riding as opposed to walking,” says Demsien. “Our stand-ons can achieve ground speeds of up to 13 mph. They’re also shorter, so you can get more units on a trailer.”
He cites another reason for stand-on mower popularity: “For contractors who do a lot of residential properties, some homeowners will see someone riding a mower, and think, ‘I can do that—why am I paying someone $150 a month to do it?’” he says. “Someone standing looks more productive.”
But never fear, riding and walk-behind mowers aren’t going anywhere. They’ll still be the most popular models for landscape contractors.
A Company-by-Company Snapshot
EXCEl did not choose to disclose any information regarding their product line prior to the opening of Green Industry Expo.
EXMARK: “In this coming year, we will use the Enhanced Control System concept that we’ve had on our wide-area walk-behinds, but we’ll be importing that technology into our stand-on machines,” Walters discloses.
FERRIS: “We have two significant redesigns,“ said Blewett.
“First, the IS 600Z will be replacing the IS 500Z. It’s aimed at landscape contractors who want a smaller mower.” The 600Z will be available with 44- and 48-inch decks.
“Perhaps the biggest change is that we’ve added the Hydro-Gear drive system to the 600Z.”
Ferris will also be putting the Hydro-Gear drive system on the IS 700Z, which is available with 52- and 61-inch mowing decks.
Both the Ferris and Snapper Pro brands are offering a new warranty called the “Two Plus Two.” Essentially, it’s a two-year warranty with unlimited hours, or a four-year warranty with 500 hours. If you haven’t put 500 hours on your mower after two years, you still have the balance for another two years.
GRASSHOPPER: “A new hardtop model 8F Twin-Bag collector is being introduced this fall that will include some welcome innovations,” said Garvey.
“The raise-up top feature is more durable. It should speed transport from jobsite to jobsite.”
Also featured is a collector bag mounting system. Grasshopper claims that this will eliminate critical wear points on the bags, extending their service life.
GRAVELY: They’re launching an EFI version of the Gravely Pro- Stance stand-on mower, making it more fuel-efficient. They’ve also added “Dial-A-Cut-Height” to it. From a standing position, an operator can dial-a-cut-height from the dashboard. He can raise the deck up or down by pulling a lever, accessible without bending over.
“If there’s an obstruction he has to mow around, the operator can just lift the deck very easily, without having to get off the mower. You don’t have to get off or bend way off the mower just to reach levers,” said Demsien.
This feature was launched last fall on Gravely’s top-of-the-line riding zero-turn mower, the Pro-Turn 400. “We took what was a very good innovation and brought it to the Pro-Stance this past spring,” reports Demsien.
“We’ve also lowered the center of gravity for more hill-holding support and better control of the machine,” he added. Also coming are diesel and propane versions of the Pro-Turn 400.
HUSQVARNA will be introducing a new entry-level commercial zeroturn platform, the M-ZT series.
Based on their popular MZ, the new M-ZT series will feature rollover protection, and a fabricated cutting deck with cast-iron spindles. Two models, a 52-inch and 61inch, are both priced below $6000.
The M-ZTs will be powered by Husqvarna’s new Endurance commercial engines, with 810cc displacement, which the company says will increase power and torque. Other features include cyclonic air filtration and a limited three-year commercial warranty.
JOHN DEERE wouldn’t release any new product information before the GIE show.
TORO: “For 2013, we’re introducing Kohlermade EFI engines into multiple models within our Z-Master series,” said Hannan. The expanded use of EFI engines will also be seen in Toro’s GrandStand series of stand-on mowers.
WALKER: “Our hot new mowers for 2013 are the MBK 23-HP EFI riding mower and the MBS 29-HPEFI,” said Cromley.
“The biggest feature of these mowers is their EFI engines. They give you 30 percent fuel savings over our current 18-horsepower model. So you’re getting five more horse with less fuel cost.”
What’s our takeaway? It all goes back to the key question, how will it make my crews more productive?
The newest mowers will be more fuel-efficient and comfortable, which means your operators will be happier, and you’ll be buying less fuel.
Happier operators plus better fuel efficiency equals greater productivity. That’s an equation that we all can circle and mark with a gold star.