Revved up


Commercial mower engines become more efficient and advanced.

Fuel prices may be down from last year, but fuel efficiency is still a top concern for landscape maintenance professionals.

Fuel savings coupled with technological advances are powering the commercial mower engine market, experts say—and there are no signs of it slowing down.

Ease of use

The bar for mower engines has been raised across the industry, creating a new, higher standard. So, manufacturers are focusing their efforts on taking engines to the next level.

“For commercial engines, performance, quality of cut and durability are still critical,” says Tim Malinowski, director of OEM sales and product development for Kawasaki Motors. “But now, we’re looking more at decreased noise and vibration. The market is asking for those standards.”

On the technology front, manufacturers are adding more access, data management and tracking features to engines.

“The end users want the flexibility and ability to transmit data,” Malinowski says.

Landscape professionals are also asking for improved serviceability. “They really want either less or easier maintenance, plus more responsive service if it’s needed,” says Ben Miller, platform manager for large vertical engines for Briggs & Stratton. “It’s all about productivity and saving costs.”

Alternative demand

But the biggest trend with commercial mower engines has been the growth of fuel-efficient options.

“We are seeing advancements in engine design that reduce overall fuel consumption and result in cleaner burn-off that lowers overall emissions,” says David Holmes, franchise consultant for The Grounds Guys.

The Ground Guys, based in Waco, Texas, has 232 franchises in North America with 192 of those in the U.S. and 40 in Canada.

To help landscapers with fuel efficiency, several manufacturers have released engines that use electronic fuel injection (EFI) systems. “(EFI) is becoming more prevalent and robust,” Miller says.

Closed-looped EFI systems deliver fuel where and when needed, which helps cut back on fuel usage compared to carbureted engines.

“Gasoline and propane EFI engines are currently in high demand due to the reduction of fuel costs by as much as 20 to 40 percent alone,” Holmes says.

The market for propane engines also has grown.

“Landscapers who prefer propane-powered equipment do so because of the desire for additional operating cost savings, as propane fuel is significantly cheaper than gasoline,” says William Schnell, senior product manager of Kohler Engines.

These fuel savings can have a significant impact during a typical mowing season, helping alternatives become a more popular option.

“In the past couple of years, we have seen several manufacturers pushing on propane and electric alternatives,” says Gary Benson, general manager of Dreamscapes 
Landscaping, based in Cheektowaga, N.Y.

Dreamscapes is a full-service landscape and snow removal company with just north of $2 million in annual revenue.

Benson says propane is a good alternative with low emissions, and it’s also not as aggressive on engine seals as gasoline containing ethanol.

Miller agrees, adding that propane, or liquefied petroleum (LP) gas, has become a big topic within the industry. “There’s a lot of discussion about why propane might be important, and we’re starting to see that in some aftermarket and factory direct sales,” Miller says. “For landscapers, it’s more about the fuel savings with LP.”

While Benson is on board with propane, he isn’t as sure about battery-powered equipment yet.

“Battery technology scares us a bit, but only because I don’t think it is as far along as they would like it,” Benson says. “Plus, what does it really take to make great battery technology and at what cost, in regards to disposal once used up?”

Focus on fuel

Helping drive all these trends is the demand for fuel efficiency, cost savings and increased power.

“They have labor and equipment costs, and they can’t really change those,” Malinowski says of landscape contractors. “But fuel economy costs are something they can gauge and monitor to see if they can improve it.”

While fuel prices are the main reason for these trends, Benson says, another driving force is that the industry is making a conscious effort to reduce emissions and its carbon footprint. “Being good stewards of the very earth we manage is a wise and healthy thing,” he adds.

State and federal regulations also have an impact on the engines manufacturers are delivering to the market, Holmes says.
looking ahead

Fuel efficiency and on-board technology will continue to be the main focus for both manufacturers and landscapers.

“We would like to see continued focus on reducing end-user operating costs and increasing power—while reducing emissions, just as they have been doing in recent years,” Holmes says. “That being said, we don’t want these advancements to cause an increase in the cost of the units we are purchasing.”

Benson says he would like manufacturers to continue improving gasoline technology. “I think there is still some life in the gasoline engine,” he says. “I think more technology for EFI would be a tremendous move to extend the life of the gas mower. We have one EFI machine in our fleet, and it consumes 40 percent to 50 percent less fuel as compared to its non-EFI twin.”

Operators can expect to see more on-board electronics that will increase the engine’s productivity, Miller says. More engines will have sensors that help protect the engine and monitor how and when it’s being used.

“We’ll continue to see the growth of electronics and what else the (engine’s) computer can do on the productivity side of things,” Miller says.

This technology will help take away the guesswork and show operators exactly what needs to be done to increase their engines’ efficiencies.

“From a business standpoint, they want to know when it’s being run and how efficient it’s being used,” Malinowski says.
Trends from the agriculture industry also will continue to affect the commercial mower engine marketplace. For 
example, Miller says contractors will start to see machine-to-machine interactions among engines in the future.

“We’re going to see some neat products in the next three to five years.”


Photos: Kohler Engines, The Grounds Guys, Kawasaki Motors

Dowdle is an Alabama-based freelance writer.

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