Procurement

Mowers: More Comfortable, Efficient, Versatile — And Bigger

May 2015, Government Fleet - Feature

by Daryl Lubnisky

A flail deck attached to Jacobsen’s TurfCat discharges grass and debris down into the turf with double-edged blades. Photo courtesy of Jacobsen
A flail deck attached to Jacobsen’s TurfCat discharges grass and debris down into the turf with double-edged blades. Photo courtesy of Jacobsen

Many government fleet managers who oversee mowing equipment have told Pete Whitacre they are looking for more versatile equipment. Often forced to operate their fleets on reduced budgets, the fleet managers don’t want a mower they will use in the summer and then let sit through the winter. Whitacre, who is sales manager, state and local government at The Toro Co., said more companies are looking to buy equipment they can use as a mower in the summertime and then convert to a snow removal machine in the wintertime. Some Toro products feature attachments that allow the user to switch functions easily.

At a Glance

As the mowing industry has continued to make product innovations, several trends are taking place:

  • Efficiency and sustainability are strong areas of focus
  • Mowers of today are more comfortable to ride than earlier versions
  • Agencies are expanding their use of cooperative contracts to purchase mowers.

“You can convert these products so quickly, it can be a plow, it can be a broom, it can be a blower,” Whitacre said. “The versatility of these machines has been very well received by fleet managers.”

Mowing products are evolving quickly as government entities are continuing to ask equipment managers to do more with less. Versatility is just one of several trends taking place as the mowing equipment industry works to keep up with the changing times.

Efficiency & Sustainability

Even as the U.S. economy has improved, government fleet managers are continuing to seek out mowers with top fuel efficiency. John Swanson, senior product manager for Exmark, said his government fleet customers are focusing on lowering operating costs, and equipment fuel economy is a big part of that. Machine efficiency and getting more done in an hour’s worth of work is another. “How can you get units that are more productive and more fuel efficient, because labor is the No. 1 expense?” Swanson asked. “It’s a lot bigger expense than the original equipment purchase, and fuel expense is also larger than the original equipment purchase.”

Rajesh Joshi, turf product marketing director for Kubota, said gasoline-powered mowers have the largest market share so far this year for his company. He added that diesel-fueled mowers remain popular among professional landscape and lawn care professionals because “they are easier to maintain, have a longer service life, and run quieter for a more comfortable ride.”

Sustainability has been a frequent topic of discussion among Jacobsen’s mower customers, said Adam Slick, manager, public relations and communications. Demand for the company’s hybrid and electric mowers has increased, and Slick predicts that technology will in the future appear on large area rotary mowers.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “The electric technology needs to be developed to meet the demands and power requirements of the large multi-deck rotaries. Imagine a mower that gets 40% better fuel economy and eliminates the need for hydraulic oil. This has been proven on our smaller hybrid mowers. The technology will get there for the larger rotary mowers, and I think the demand will follow.”

Bill Frank and Stacy Engelmohr, government business managers for John Deere’s Ag & Turf division, reported seeing an ­increased interest in alternative fuels in the public sector. Fleet managers are asking about propane. Frank and Engelmohr emphasized that as fleets are outfitted with propane products, manufacturers and dealers should make sure a qualified technician sets up the equipment correctly.

Increased Cooperative Purchasing

Whitacre of Toro, who spoke by phone to Government Fleet while attending a conference of the National Association of State Purchasing Officials in Philadelphia, said the use of cooperative contracts in purchasing mowers is an ongoing trend that officials discussed at the conference. These cooperatives offer agencies a pre-competed contract that saves duplication of effort, an opportunity to reallocate resources, and national aggregate pricing.

Added Comfort

Swanson of Exmark explained that mowers of today are more comfortable than earlier versions in three different ways. The first is the operator seat and the suspension around it. That helps improve operator performance over time. They are better able to handle driving over rough terrain. They’re more alert at 3 p.m., “and not so fatigued from hours spent mowing varying, often uneven terrain,” Swanson said. More operator comfort leads to fewer accidents and less property damage.

Noise and vibration are the other two areas. “We’re constantly seeing new products launched that have less vibration,” Swanson said. “It’s a Cadillac compared to what it used to be, smooth and very comfortable.” He mentioned Exmark’s Red Technology, a feature on the Lazer Z X-Series that runs the mower at slightly lower revolutions per minute, reducing vibration and noise.

Larger Size

As government agencies have been forced to do more with less over the past few years, municipalities have been using larger mowers to compensate for labor force reductions. Instead of using several smaller mowers, many are operating 10-foot-wide mowers so one worker can do the work of two. “In some cases, with the increased productivity from wider cutting decks, customers can reduce the size of their fleets and labor,” Whitacre said.

This Toro Groundsmaster 7200 with snowthrower attachment can be used during other parts of the year. Photo courtesy of Toro
This Toro Groundsmaster 7200 with snowthrower attachment can be used during other parts of the year. Photo courtesy of Toro

Improved Diagnostics

Improved technology can provide the operator with more information if the mower is experiencing technical problems to minimize­ downtime. Whitacre noted that some mowers feature a user interface that notifies the user of potential mechanical issues.

Checklist To Get Started: Cost of Operation a Top Consideration

What should government fleet managers consider when developing a checklist for buying a mower? Bill Frank and Stacy Engelmohr, government business managers for John Deere’s Ag & Turf division, say three variables should come to mind: performance, uptime, and cost of operation.

Performance

  • The ability to be moved quickly: Purchasers should look for this trait in a mower, whether the user loads the mower onto a trailer or drives it to the next job site.
  • Maneuverability: Machines should be able to navigate in and out of landscaped areas.
  • Faster operation: Look for mowers that are engineered to mow at higher speeds, which will help complete the job faster.
  • Operator comfort: Comfort equals productivity. When the operator is comfortable, he is more apt to focus on the task at hand.
  • Versatility: Look for a machine that can do more than just mow. Consider duties such as debris cleanup and snow removal.
  • Cut quality: Parks and recreation departments want their grass to look good for the public. A clean cut will go a long way with public perception.

Uptime

  • Mowing in adverse conditions: Fleet managers don’t have time to wait for wet grass to dry. They need a rugged machine that can get the job done anywhere, anytime.
  • Parts availability: Fleet managers need the right parts right away when a machine goes down. Find a dealer and manufacturer who will react quickly and be with you every step of the way.
  • Serviceability/daily maintenance requirements: If daily maintenance is easily accessible, it’s more likely to get done. This will lead to better performance, more hours mowing, and less downtime.

Cost of Operation

  • Fuel economy: Although fuel prices are fluctuating, conduct research and learn about fuels other than gasoline that are available for mowing equipment.
  • Service intervals: Make sure you understand the quarterly or annual service costs associated with each piece of equipment. These can vary by machine but are clearly conveyed in the operator’s manual.
  • Blow, mow, sweep: Do you prefer to purchase one machine that can handle several tasks or multiple machines each dedicated to a specific job? Attachments add versatility and can keep additional equipment purchase costs down.

Additional Trends

Today’s mower market features many more zero-turn mowers than about 10 years ago, said Brent Dobson, government accounts manager at Grasshopper. Several mowers on the market are manufactured for both residential and commercial use.

Dobson also noted many companies are building less expensive mowers with lighter transmissions and lighter cutting decks.

Mower manufacturers have been working to ensure their products meet EPA’s Tier 4 emission standards. “That’s been a huge deal, not only because of the reduced emissions realized , but also the increased cost that comes with these more sophisticated systems,” said Whitacre of Toro.

Frank and Engelmohr of John Deere are also seeing that bids for mowers are focusing more on equipment value than simply price. They are more interested in quality and performance and are focused on finding the right machine for the job. Parts ­availability and good dealer service are additional factors they are considering. Fleet managers are looking for companies they can trust and who will be there for them if and when equipment goes down.

Slick of Jacobsen also sees a trend of more versatile equipment, noting that his company is seeing demand for multi-purpose mowers that can swap attachments.

“I can mow with it year-round and add a mulch kit to reduce clippings or for mulching leaves in the fall,” Slick said. “I can add a blower or powered broom for general debris or leaf cleanup or add a plow, broom, or snow blower with a cab for winter use. So this turns into a multi-season, multi-purpose machine, and it’s adding more value to my fleet.

Additional Checklist of Items to Consider

Brand reputation. John Swanson, senior product manager of Exmark, said government fleet managers looking for a mower should determine whether the equipment can handle commercial-duty work. A buyer might save a few dollars buying an “off brand,” but he or she will end up paying for it, Swanson said. Commercial duty, he said, means the landscaper is running the equipment 10 to 12 hours every day, with little downtime and 100% performance, 100% of the time.

Sizing equipment correctly: Bill Frank and Stacy Engelmohr, government business managers at John Deere, said mower users should determine where the equipment will be used and whether it will be dedicated to large open areas or more confined areas. Swanson said the lion’s share of the mower equipment features 60-inch decks or higher. But some areas of the country have smaller property sizes, so mower users should make sure their equipment is not too large for the property on which they are using it.

Do a demo: Several mowing product company representatives interviewed for this article said users should first try the product on the site they will be using it to make sure it works properly and is comfortable for the user.

COMMENTS

  1. 1. Desperado [ May 22, 2015 @ 03:54PM ]

    Really cool and heck of a setup and attachments ...may have to increase the National Debt to afford them . Wonder what kind of pricing they are giving govt. ? Hate to even think of it ....but nice.

 

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