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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.