This year will likely be remembered as something of a landmark year in the green industry. We’ve seen seasonal weather abnormalities so severe that you might wonder whether Mother Nature was off her rocker. We’ve seen significant changes in the way our government and our clients view the landscape. We’ve also seen an array of new technologies being offered, both within our industry and from interested parties in the tech world at large.
The recent GIE+EXPO, held in Louisville, Kentucky, offered mower manufacturers a chance to show off their latest and greatest. It also offered those of us at Irrigation & Green Industry magazine a chance to pick their brains. This was a busy year, with 34 different mower manufacturers showing off their wares. As such, it should come as no surprise that we can’t cover every one, so we concentrated on those manufacturers in the commercial area. It’s enough to make you say “GIE whiz!” The first, and most obvious, trend is that the Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) engine is gathering a lot of attention. All three of the major engine manufacturers—Briggs & Stratton, Kawasaki and Kohler— each have rolled out their own EFI engines. Just as in the auto industry 40 years ago, now that EFI has proven feasible for one or two major companies, everybody wants in on the action, as well they might. EFI provides better fuel economy, improved performance and durability. It also lays the groundwork for a host of software-based add-ons.
If you want an idea of what that might look like, check out what the computers in automobiles are doing today. Car computers can do more than just self-diagnose problems; they can self-brake and even self-drive. You might not want to hold your breath, but EFI could be a stepping stone in that direction.
The other big news is the increased interest in stand-on mowers. Since first entering the market nearly two decades ago, stand-on mowers have come to fill a niche between walk-behind and ride-on machines. Besides their particular blend of productivity to price-point, they’re attractive for their maneuverability, small size and increased visibility. Some even find them more comfortable than their sit-down counterparts; after all, the continuous vibrations from sitting on a running engine all day can be tiring.
Whatever the reason, stand-on equipment is continuing to grow as a segment of the market. They’re increasingly prevalent in urban markets, where space is at a premium both on and off the trailer.
We at Irrigation & Green Industry magazine predict that in five years’ time, the stand-on mower will be the top requested mower in the commercial market. It will replace ride-ons as the most popular mower type.
Following are the general trends this year; however, every manufacturer has its own releases. Here’s a quick visit with just a few of them.
This year, the Coatesville, Indiana company added a 72-inch cutting-width model to their commercial Silver Eagle line.
The machine is now wider for better hillside stability, and longer for an improved quality of ride and cut.
Matt Jackson, engineering manager for the company, explained their changes to the model year ’15-’16 mowers. “We did a lot of new styling, added more curb appeal,” he said. “We also addressed warranty or customer concerns. Any feedback that we get, we try and address in our model year changes.”
According to John Cloutier, senior marketing manager, the biggest release from the company, located in Beatrice, Nebraska, was an advancement in comfort. “The high light for us was the new suspension platform on the Lazer Z, a truly independent platform from the main frame,” he said.
Exmark also introduced a 60- inch version of their Vantage S- series propane-powered stand-on model with EFI. They are also offering rear discharge decks as optional on their Lazer Z X-series, and 72" decks on their Lazer Z E-Series.
A new line of stand-on mowers, the Soft Ride Stand-on (SRS) Z2 machines, are the latest offering from the Munnsville, New York company. They come with either a Kawasaki 24 hp engine, or a Vanguard 28 hp EFI engine, and a 52-inch or 61- inch cutting width. Ferris also came out with the IS 2600Z diesel riding mower, with a 24 hp Yanmar engine and a 61-inch cutting deck.
Based in Moundridge, Kansas, Grasshopper made a number of changes this year to their 100V line of commercial zero-turn ride-on mowers. They started with 61-inch decks as options for the 125V and 126V. “The reason that’s significant,” said Mike Simmon, communications specialist with the company, “is we really feel like that’s going to be the sweet spot for contractors who are making the step up from standons into the zero-turn rider category.”
The other major change to the 100V series was to increase the gas tank from three gallons to six gallons, and reposition it from the fender to under the seat. “You mow for very long and you can start to appreciate the fuel tank being under the seat,” Simmon said. “It lowers the center of gravity; it provides more traction and control, and it increases stability, too.” The repositioning also allows the operator to check the fuel gauge without lifting the seat, or even leaving it.
This coming year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Gravely brand, and in honor of the occasion, they’re making upgrades across the board. The Pro-Stance stand-on mower now features a simplified deck level system, with four-point adjustment. The deck hanger welds have been eliminated. It also features an X- Factor II deck that has a lifetime warranty, a Hydro-Gear ZT-3400 transmission, and improvements to the transport lockout, thigh pad, and grip on the height-of-cut dial.
Gravely’s Pro-Turn 200 and 400 are also getting overhauled. They’re both getting a constant-belt tensioning system, the new deck level system and the X-Factor II deck. They’re also receiving improvements to the discharge chute, control panel, steering controls and mulching kit. Finally, the entire lineup features new ‘visual brand language,’ an updated look that you can already see on their Atlas jobsite vehicle.
The Hesston, Kansas company released their first stand-on mower model this year, the Hustler SS. The machine comes in four deck widths, ranging from 36 inches to 60 inches. Its engine option choices are from Kawasaki and Kohler, ranging from 15 hp to 25 hp and include an EFI option.
The company is also releasing a Raptor Limited 52-inch ride-on mower. The Raptor Limited includes an engine guard, larger drive and caster tires, a new seat, and an hour meter.
They’re the new kid on the block, and an old hand at the same time. Jacobsen is once again marketing its commercial mowers to landscape contractors, after a long hiatus. They’re unveiling a line of three new zero-turn machines, consisting of a hydraulic walk-behind (WZT), a stand-on (SZT) and a ride-on (RZT) mower. For the RZT, you can choose a 25 hp Kawasaki engine with a 50-inch deck, a 27 hp Kawasaki engine with a 60-inch deck, or a 27 hp Kohler EFI engine with either deck.
The SZT comes with a Vanguard 810cc engine in 48-inch or 54-inch deck sizes. The WZT comes with an 18 hp Briggs & Stratton engine, a 36-inch or 44- inch deck, and a single-drive or dual-drive drivetrain.
Adam Slick, senior marketing manager for the Charlotte, North Carolina company, was asked why they chose now to jump back into this part of the mower market. “We’re getting back into the commercial landscaping side of the business because of the growth opportunities,” he said. “The golf market continues to shrink, and we have commercial customers on the professional side who have our large rotaries, and who assume we have a zero-turn, or a walk-behind, or a stand-on.”