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The very competitive commercial mower industry just had its equivalent of Detroit’s Auto Show. It’s called GIE+EXPO, and it’s held every October in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s where all the major—and minor— players in the mower game show off their latests-and-greatests, and make important announcements.

One of this years’ top stories is about fuel economy.

Even though the price of gasoline is down from just two months ago, the overall skyrocketing cost of gasoline put everyone on the alert to seek greater fuel efficiency. It prompted mower companies to produce more models equipped with EFI (electronic fuel injection) engines. Propane is getting lots more attention too, with companies adding OEM (original equipment manufacturer) propane-fueled engines (including EFI propane).

“Propane continues to grow,” said John Swanson, senior product manager for Exmark, “because it affects the commercial guys’ bottom line; he can save money by converting to it. And while saving money is important, he also wants the ability to advertise being green.”

Another hot issue is standers.

New standers were prominently featured at the show by a number of mower makers. But that doesn’t mean zero-turn riders are being outstripped. “Standers are very popular in certain pockets of the country, but they don’t outsell riders by any means,” said Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries.

“The growth of the stand-on market is exponentially more than what we’re seeing in the zero-turns,” says Bill Engler, director of sales, commercial landscape channel for Ariens. “Although it’s not the largest, it’s one of the fastest growing market segments. They sell well in highly populated urban areas, where there are tight spaces and smaller properties. And, you can fit more of them on a truck.” They’re versatile, too; many units convert to walk-behinds with the flip of a lever.

According to Ross Hawley, marketing manager for Toro, productivity is a major reason why contractors increasingly choose stand-on mowers. “They’re easy for operators to step on and off of and visibility is excellent. They combine the benefits of walk-behind mowers with the maneuverability of zero-turn riders.”

Also look for plenty of ergonomic upgrades, such as suspension seats, automobile-like electronic information centers and even an optional steering wheel! Since your buying decisions are based primarily on these factors, that’s what the manufacturers have drilled down on.

The other news is the growing market for UTVs, or utility vehicles (see sidebar on page 45).

So, let’s see what’s new.

Altoz

The Greenbush, Minnesota-based company, a newcomer to the commercial market, unveiled its new XE series of zero-turn riders. The XE 480, XE 540 and XE 610 models (with 48-, 54- and 61-inch cutting decks, respectively) were designed for multi-acre homeowners and smaller commercial operations. Each mower has a Briggs & Stratton Commercial Turf engine with electronic fuel management.

A ZT-3200 transmission from Hydro-Gear, Sullivan, Illinois, is featured in all three XE models. Other features include large, 22-inch rear tires and optional suspension seats. A complete line of accessories for the XE will be coming soon.

Also debuting were two new Altoz XC model zero-turn riders, the XC 540 Si and the XC 610 Si, both powered by Briggs & Stratton Vanguard 810cc EFI engines. The 28 hp engine features a closed-loop fuel injection system that Altoz says will result in “fuel economy improvements of up to 25 percent over carbureted engines.” The two models have Hydro- Gear ZT-4400 transmissions, 26- inch tires, and are available with 54- and 61-inch cutting decks, respectively.

Ariens/Gravely

The Ariens Company, based in Brillion, Wisconsin, is offering two new propane (or LP, for liquid petroleum)-powered mowers through its commercial contractor brand, Gravely. The new Pro - Stance 52 LP stander debuted in late October. Look for the Pro-Walk Hydro LP 48 walk-behind in spring, 2015.

Gravely’s current propane-powered lineup includes the zeroturn Pro-Turn 460 LP and the Pro-Turn 472 LP, as well as the Pro- Turn 400, with a 60- or 72-inch deck. (The entire 400 series is available with gas, diesel, or propane engines.)

In addition, any Gravely machine, old or new, can now be converted to propane. “We’ll send the machine to your local dealership,” said Engler. “The dealer will purchase our hardware kit, plus an EPA-certified aftermarket conversion kit, and install everything. Then, it essentially becomes an OEM propane machine, warranteed by the engine manufacturer and Gravely.”

Gravely has partnered with Hydro-Gear to provide a third year of warranty coverage (parts only) on their Hydro-Gear ZT-5400 and ZT-3400 transmissions. These transmissions are featured on the Gravely Pro-Turn 400, Pro-Turn 2 0 0 and Pro-Turn 100 commercial zero-turn riders, as well as the Gravely Pro-Stance 48, 52 and 60 commercial standers.

“By far, the transmission is the most expensive part to replace, besides the engine,” says Engler. “Now, a contractor can have coverage on, essentially, the entire machine, for three years.”

The warranty extension is available to anyone who bought one of the specified models on or after October 1, 2014. To qualify for the third year of the warranty, you must have its transmission oil and filter changed by a Gravely dealer. The changes must be completed within a 50-hour window of the required maintenance intervals stated in the manual, beginning at the 75-hour point, and repeated every 400 hours thereafter.

John Deere

Deere & Company, Moline, Illinois, has a new zero-turn diesel model, the Z997R Diesel ZTrak. The engine is Final Tier 4i compliant, but still boasts 37.4 hp, which the company says makes it more than a match for tall and wet grass.

It’s available with a seven-gauge, “seven-Iron” PRO (60- or 72-inch side discharge, or a 60-inch Mulch On Demand) deck, or a fabricated 60-inch rear-discharge deck. Other features include a heavy-duty frame, a shaft drive, and “flat-free” front tires.

There’s also a new, electrically powered 14-bushel hard shell dumpfrom-seat Material Collection System (MCS) that will allow an operator to accumulate material with minimal leakage, and extend the intervals between dumps.

“The new Z997R offers landscape contractors a powerful zero-turn option that will maximize acres mowed per hour, without skimping on operator comfort and cut quality,” said Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing.

This mower comes B20 biodieselcompatible from the factory. Buyers can choose a two-year, unlimitedhour warranty or a three year, 1,500 hour warranty. It’s also eligible for Deere’s GreenFleet Loyalty Rewards program. Look for the Z997R in spring of 2015.

Dixie Chopper

This Coatesville, Indiana-based company’s 2015 product lineup features walk-behind and stand-on units, as well as several updates to some of its existing zeroturn mowers.

The all-new Pursuit walkbehind comes standard with an 18 hp Briggs and Stratton engine, and includes 32-inch, 36-inch, and 44- inch deck options. The Pursuit features single- and dual-hydro options, and can reach up to seven miles per hour.

The Stryker Stand-On features a 26 hp Briggs and Stratton Vanguard engine with 48-inch and 54-inch deck options. It has a large operator platform that can be flipped, so the mower can be used as a conventional walk-behind.

It also features operator presence control (OPC) which will shut down the machine if it detects that the operator is no longer aboard.

While many commercial mowers have OPCs, “a lot of times, they’re on the platforms, if the mowers are stand-ons, or in the handles,” said Matt Jackson, engineering manager. “We didn’t like the functionality of it being in the handles, so we came up with something new: ours uses ultrasonic sensors, which we believe is an industry first.”

“We originally unveiled the Stryker Stand-On at last year’s GIE, but we didn’t go into production with it, as we’ve been working on modifications to improve the design,” said Jackson. It’ll be an initial release for production this year for the first time.

There are a few changes to the Classic and XCaliber zero-turn mower series. For 2015, the Classic series will offer several engine options; a 27, 31, or 35 hp Kawasaki FX engine; a 34 hp Kohler EFI engine; or a 36 hp Vanguard engine. Engine choice will depend upon deck size.

The XCaliber engine options (also dependent on deck size), now include 31 and 35 hp Kawasaki FX engines; 33 and 34 hp Kohler EFI engines; or a 36 hp Vanguard engine. Updates also include a new deck-lift system and an increased ground speed of 13 mph.

Dixie Chopper is the only mower manufacturer to make a compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered commercial mower. It’s not planned for production for this year, but “we do have them available if someone wants one,” says Jackson.

Though some airports and cities with on-site CNG tanks have purchased them, “the national infrastructure is not there” to expand the market on a wider scale. Due to the higher pressure rating of CNG tanks, they can’t be removed for filling, like propane tanks.

Excel Industries

There is news from both of the Hesston, Kansas–based company’s brands, Hustler and Big Dog.

From Hustler, there’s the new Raptor Flip-up, and a redesign of two of its most popular zero-turn riders, the FasTrak and FasTrak SD. “We’ve taken our bread-and-butter machine and completely redesigned it from the ground up,” says product manager Brad Unruh.

Heavier-duty frames, deeper and heavier-duty decks, larger tires, and improved ergonomics in the seats and handlebars are amongst the updates. Some new styling features have also been added.

Unruh says The FasTrak and Fas- Trak SD fall into what he calls the “tweener” category: the crossover territory inhabited by mowers that are also used by contractors for lighter duties or estate mowing. They’re available with a 48-inch deck and a 21.5 hp engine, a 54-inch deck with a 23 hp engine, or a 60- inch deck with a 24 hp engine.

The FasTrak SD comes with 36- or 42-inch decks, with a 19 hp engine; a 48-inch deck with a 22 hp engine; and 54- and 60-inch decks with 23.5 hp engines.

The interesting thing about the Hustler Raptor Flip-up mid-mount commercial rider is that it has a deck that can be raised, or “flipped,” with the push of a button for easier cleaning and sharpening. (The new Big Dog Blackjack is a similar machine.)

“It takes about 20 seconds to work a couple of levers, push a button, and the deck goes up; you don’t have to manually lift the deck in any way,” says Unruh. He says that while some other companies have mowers with liftable decks, they have to be lifted manually or jacked; some also require the removal of deck belts.

On the Big Dog side, the company has done a similar upgrading to its Stout and Stout MP riders. Stouts are available with 48-inch decks and 21.5 hp engines. The 54- inch deck engine packs 23 hp, and the 60-inch deck model’s provides 24 hp.

Stout MPs come in two sizes. The 54-inch deck model has a 22 hp engine, and the 60-inch deck mower comes with a 23.5 hp engine.

Exmark

Exmark, Beatrice, Nebraska, a division of The Toro Company, has debuted the new Vantage S-Series Propane 52-inch stand-on. This new mower allows contractors to combine the maneuverability of a stand-on mower with the fuel economy that both propane and EFI engines provide.

The new model uses a “state-of-the-art” Kohler Command Pro PCV740 EFI propane power plant that “delivers significant increases in fuel economy, performance and reliability, along with being environmentally friendly.”

Why EFI for pro-pane? Exmark says that the “the efficiency of the EFI system reduces fuel consumption by up to 4 0 percent compared to carbureted propane engines.”

The engine’s automotive-style closed-loop EFI system is also said to deliver easy, no-choke starting. It adjusts fuel/air mixture settings in real time for any altitude, in any temperature, in any conditions.

Swanson says that this engine performs better and saves more fuel than gasoline-to-propane conversion kits. “Everything in this engine has been made to work with propane,” continued Swanson. “We initially went to market back in 2006, 2007, with an aftermarket conversion. We saw the performance issues; that’s why we pushed hard to get a better solution.”

The Vantage S-Series Propane model is available with a 52-inch UltraCut Series 4 cutting deck with patented Flow Control baffles to enhance cut quality. The deck’s welded-steel construction features seven-gauge high-strength steel-reinforced spindle mounting rings for added strength and durability.

There are also a couple of new zeroturn riders from Exmark with large decks that are in that transitional homeowner/contractor category. One of them, the Quest S-Series Front Steer zero-turn rider, is now available with an optional automobile-style steering wheel, as well as traditional twin-stick controls. This series also includes a standard foot pedal-operated deck lift.

The steerable front wheels allow greater control on hillsides; a standard tilt-steering column eases operator access. For 2015, Exmark has added a 34-inch UltraCut Series 2 cutting-deck option to the existing 42- and 50-inch deck options. The Ultra - Cut Series 2 decks are fabricated from high-strength 10-gauge steel.

The most affordable Exmark zeroturn rider, the Quest E-Series, is now available with a 42- or 54-inch cutting deck. All Quest E-Series machines feature 18-inch extra-tall seats.

These revamped 2015 Quest machines are also the first mowers available with Exmark’s new twincylinder engine, the 708cc V-twin.

This engine has been tuned to deliver quicker, stronger response for more power.

There’s also a new air intake design that reduces dust and debris build-up with a constant flow of prescreened air. The company claims that “the design of the air-box cover and air filter virtually eliminate the possibility that an incorrectly installed filter could allow engine-killing dust and debris into the engine.”

A standard quick-drain system allows for tool-less oil changes. There’s also a long drain hose for reduced mess. Exmark says these two features should significantly speed up oil changes.

Grasshopper

The Grasshopper Company, Moundridge, Kansas, has expanded its line of compact V-Series zeroturn mowers with two new models, the 125V and 225V.

Features include fully hydraulic, integrated pump-and-wheel-motor transmissions; 747 cc Kohler Confidant engines (with limited threeyear engine manufacturer warranties); 5.5-inch, extra-deep cutting decks with foot pedal and drop-pin height adjustment; large turf-style drive tires; and fully-cushioned Cordura-covered seats with padded armrests.

The Model 125V can be equipped with 48- or 52-inch decks, while the 225V can accept 52- and 61-inch decks.

The V-Series was designed to combine the maneuverability of zeroturn mowers with a compact size to make them better able to work in tight spaces and take up less space in trucks or trailers.

Grasshopper claims that these mowers have “the longest transmission-fluid change interval in their class, with no break-in period.” With self-tensioning belts and no more than five grease points, the V-Series has been designed to decrease maintenance and lower the cost of operation.



Husqvarna

The Charlotte, North Carolina based company reenters the walkbehind market with the new W436 and W448, featuring 36- and 48-inch fixed, fabricated decks, respectively. Both models come with Peerless five-speed transmissions, premium 18 hp V-twin Vanguard engines, assisted reverse gears, electric clutches, and rubber M-ZT discharge shields. They’ll be available in January 2015.

Other updates include a change to the spindle blower assemblies on their professional series grass collection systems. Sean

Dwyer, director of regional product creases performance and durability, development, says the change increases performance and durability, and makes the collectors much easier to remove and install than previous generations.

Other news includes engines with greater power and fuel economy. Select models of its commercial zero-turn mower line can now be purchased with new Vanguard EFI and Kohler Command Pro EFI engines. 

The company has introduced these new fuel-injected engines on select models of their PZ and P-ZT line of professional zero-turn mowers.

Husqvarna claims these engines will reduce fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent or more, while substantially improving performance and reliability. The Vanguard 810cc EFI is a closed-loop EFI system that constantly adjusts the fuel mixture to optimize power, improve throttle response and conserve fuel. It is available on the P-ZT 60 model.

The Kohler 824cc Command Pro EFI has a “revolutionary” manifold design, closed-loop fuel injection and a dual spark-plug configuration for superior performance, torque and fuel economy.

It’ll be available on the PZ 54, PZ 60 and PZ 72 models. “We really needed  an EFI option to meet the PZ Series performance requirements,” said Dwyer. “The new 824 cc Kohler Command Pro fits the bill with a great combination of power and fuel economy, so we introduced a variant of EFI on every model of the PZ class.”

Mean Green Products

This Hamilton, Ohio-based company is the only one that makes lithium battery-powered mowers for the commercial contractor market. Their newest entry is the SK-48 STALKER, a stand-on that converts to a walk-behind.

This unit includes a built-in debris blower. When you’re finished mowing, you can steer the mower onto the sidewalk or driveway and blow away the clippings. The company claims this built-in accessory produces “air volume and speed similar to most gas-powered blowers.”

Toro

The Bloomington, Minnesota-based company’s GrandStand stander mowers feature new Kawasaki FX Series engines on models with 48-, 52- and 60-inch cutting decks. The compact, V-twin engines come standard with heavy duty dual-stage canister air cleaners. For 2015, the 48-inch model has been upgraded from a Kawasaki FS 651V engine to an FX 691V engine.

“These heavy-duty engines are designed to help operators maximize their productivity with low emissions, high power and smooth operation,” said Hawley.

The GrandStand series features a platform suspension system for a smoother ride, and TURBO FORCE decks with rugged spindle assemblies. Their wide stance and widedrive tires enable mowing rates of nearly five acres per hour.

Toro has also expanded its zeroturn rider lineup with the new 8000 Series Direct Collect Z mowers. These are intended to offer a solution for landscape professionals who maintain high-end, highly manicured properties.

They feature high-capacity hoppers with powerful, large-diameter blowers to reduce vacuuming time or emptying clippings. The rear-discharge design allows for trimming on both sides of decks. Operators can control the discharge to keep planting beds and sidewalks clippings-free.

In addition, the two-blade cutting system has a higher blade-tip speed to cut grass into finer particles. A fill-reduction system lets operators choose between 100-percent bagging, 50-percent bagging/50-percent mulching, or 100-percent mulching.

The controls are designed to make the 8000 Series “effortless” to maneuver in tight spots and corners.

These mowers can achieve forward ground speeds of up to seven mph.

The 8000 Series is available with 42- or 48-inch cutting decks that are four and 5/8-inches deep and constructed of welded 7/10 gauge steel.

Height of cut can be adjusted from one to four inches in quarter-inch increments. Models are equipped with either 20.5 hp Kohler Command Pro or 23 hp Kohler Command Pro EFI engines.

Onboard intelligence technology is something we’ve come to expect in new cars and trucks. Toro is now introducing it on two Z Master Professional 6000 EFI zero-turn riders.

The new Horizon Technology onboard intelligence platform allows operators to choose from three different operating modes. This is supposed to maximize fuel efficiency under various mowing conditions.

Using a three-position rocker switch, the operator can choose from three defined performance modes. “Max” mode will deliver maximum power. “Economy” mode should reduce fuel consumption, emissions, noise and machine wear under normal conditions. Finally, “Low” mode is intended to help reduce deck packing and discharge clumping when cutting under wet conditions.

The Horizon platform also monitors engine oil pressure and temperature. Indicator lights will alert the operator to critical system issues. The mower will then automatically go into “safe mode” to reduce the risk of damaging the machine.

This information should allow you to make more informed decisions when it comes to your mowing fleet.