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Gasoline still viable as battery-powered equipment continues to experience growth

Equip Expo in Louisville, Ky. had plenty of options available for both gasoline and battery-powered users

November 27, 2023  By  Mike Jiggens

Randy Jensen, technical sales specialist at Oregon Tool, demonstrates the performance of the company’s Speed Cut Nano blade at Equip Expo in Louisville, Ky. Photo credit: Mike Jiggens

The move to battery-powered equipment in the landscaping and turf maintenance industries continues to pick up speed. More and more equipment manufacturers have either expanded their electrified offerings or have become the latest to enter the battery market. Despite significant advances made of late in battery technology, a large market still exists for gasoline-powered products, and many major manufacturers are determined to give their professional customers a choice.

October’s Equip Expo in Louisville, Ky. showcased the best of both worlds. The largest trade show of its kind in North America set another attendance record with more than 27,000 people on hand from the United States, Canada and 45 other countries who viewed and demonstrated the latest commercial-grade, outdoor power equipment available on the market.

Husqvarna has been a leader in recent years in the manufacturing of battery-powered products aimed at the landscaping industry. It offers a full range of equipment, including mowers, blowers, trimmers and edgers. Much of the company’s attention of late, however, has been focused on battery charging solutions, says Carlos Haddad, vice-president and general manager for North America’s professional business unit.

“The biggest challenge landscapers face is to charge those batteries, especially overnight,” he said.

With more battery-powered commercial-grade equipment available on the market today, Husqvarna provides charging solutions that allow six, eight, 10 or 12 batteries to be charged overnight with a low, slow charge. Haddad said a slower charge allows batteries to be charged repeatedly, reducing the risk of damaging the battery and extending its life.

“We believe a slow charge overnight keeps the battery much more intact and keeps the life of the battery for much longer,” he said.

The company also has fast-charging options available that allow landscapers to recharge low-running batteries during a lunch period on a job site. Haddad said Husqvarna has 30-minute chargers that can restore a battery to full power, but added the option should be used sparingly and only on an emergency basis.

In addition to recent advances in battery charging technology, innovations in robotic and autonomous products have abounded in only a few short years. Haddad said there were few conversations about robotic and autonomous technology only a handful of years ago, but today there is a broader acceptance of such products, especially in the landscaping industry.

Almost every robotic mower required the installation of perimeter wiring only a couple of years ago, and their movements were random. Most robotic mowers today don’t require boundary wiring and can cut in programmed patterns, increasing the capacity of areas that can be mowed.

Being able to mow large acreage within a shorter time reduces the dependency on labour and promotes environmental sustainability, Haddad said.

This has allowed Husqvarna to move into the sports turf and golf course maintenance markets with robotic mowing. The company’s Ceora model can cut fairways as short as .3 inches and has been adopted at Boston’s Fenway Park – home of Major League Baseball’s Red Sox.

Exploring the golf market

Kress, another leader in battery-powered turf maintenance equipment, is also planning to venture into the golf market.

“Robotics lends itself well to golf course maintenance,” Phil Fitzpatrick, general manager and vice-president of Kress’ Canadian operations, said.

The company, which had expanded its network of Canadian dealers to almost 140 at the time of Equip Expo, has expanded its battery-powered product line to include snow blowers, recently launching a two-stage machine under the Kress name. Although the equipment is part of the company’s “prosumer” line, commercial-grade versions of the snow blowers are expected to hit the market by next year, Fitzpatrick said.

Kress, a part of the Positec Group, made a big splash at the 2022 Equip Expo with its battery lineup and charging solutions, including its Cybertank system which allows batteries to be recharged in minutes.

“We’re replacing the gas tank, if you will, with our Cybertank and the ability to charge batteries in quick time,” Fitzpatrick said. “Now, you have a charge time that is quicker than the amount of time it takes to run out your battery.”

The company conducted a series of trials with landscapers during the past year, putting Kress-branded products in their hands and garnering feedback from their experiences. Mostly positive feedback was generated by the participating landscapers, he said, acknowledging that the process of getting crews to tap into battery technology is ongoing. Some landscaping employees wish to continue using gasoline-powered equipment until they’re obligated to adopt battery.

Fitzpatrick said he figures that mindset applies to only a small percentage of landscapers.

“We continue to think we’re in the right place at the right time with the right technology,” he said.

Looking at battery cautiously

Yakta, a relative newcomer to the landscape equipment manufacturing industry, has been producing gasoline-powered zero turn mowers for the past year. The Woodlands, Man.-based company has been taking a hard look at the battery-powered market but is approaching it cautiously.

“There’s still a lot to learn about that technology,” CEO Andrew Firth said. “We believe it’s the way of the future, but we need to do it right.”

Yakta gets its name from Australian-rooted terminology that translates into “hard work” and “thank you.”

In addition to its Canadian location, Yakta has a plant in Australia and another that is starting up in Tennessee. The company is a sister enterprise of Arrowquip which was founded in Australia by Firth’s father and manufactures animal handling equipment. The junior Firth said the decision to form a sister company that specializes in zero turn mowers was made just prior to last year’s Equip Expo.

“After Equip Expo, we went home with a fairly clear map of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to position ourselves in the market,” he said.

The first four employees Yakta hired were engineers.

“We’re an innovation-focused company.”

Obstacles to battery

Senix Tools, a fairly new brand from China-based parent company Yat, is also carefully treading into the battery-powered market, manufacturing outdoor power equipment for both commercial customers and consumers.

Rocky Reynolds, vice-president of sales and marketing, admitted robotics are currently a hot topic today, “but the adoption rate is very low.”

He said gasoline-powered mowers are still dominating the consumer market as price point and performance remain as obstacles.

While significant improvements have been made to robotic mowers in recent years – with their ability to cut in programmed patterns without the need for boundary wiring – the wired version’s cheaper cost continues to make them a popular choice, Reynolds said.

“That’s a major barrier,” he said. “They (customers) don’t mind putting down some wire for a small yard.”

Senix Tools, however, prefers to promote robotic mowers that cut in patterns rather than those that mow by random movement, Reynolds said, noting they also produce a better quality of cut.

The company will be introducing a line of gasoline-electric hybrid zero turn mowers next year in 42 and 54-inch widths.

“There are people who don’t want to take that leap straight to all batteries, so we decided if it works in the car industry it should work in the mower industry.”

Reynolds said with many of Senix Tools’ competitors going 100 per cent battery, plenty of market space has remained for companies that still offer gasoline options.

Gas and battery options

Companies under the Stanley Black & Decker umbrella also wish to provide both battery and gasoline options to their commercial customers.

“The growth rate of battery is moving at a higher rate, but it’s not every market,” Aaron Griffith, director of professional dealer sales for Stanley Black & Decker said. “The big cities is where it’s really taken off, but it’s growing at a faster rate than gas power because it’s new technology and is gaining traction.”

Aaron Griffith, director of professional dealer sales for Stanley Black & Decker, with the DeWalt Ascent C60 ride-on/stand-on hybrid battery-powered mower that can be configured from one type to the other in less than 30 seconds. Photo credit: Mike Jiggens

He said there are several markets that still prefer gasoline-powered equipment, figuring it won’t be anytime soon when the industry moves exclusively to battery.

The company’s DeWalt brand is actively promoting its battery-powered products while the Hustler and Cub Cadet brands continue to give customers gasoline-powered options.

“We’re still investing in gas because we know that’s the product we have to have,” Griffith said.

Transitioning to battery

Some companies that have traditionally offered gasoline-powered equipment are transitioning to battery, acknowledging it’s the direction the industry is heading. Such is the case with Stihl, whose transition is in full swing, says company president and CEO Chris Keffer.

He said the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute reports that more than half of the outdoor power equipment purchased today in the United States is powered by battery. Reduced noise output, ease of use, longer run times and lower maintenance are among the contributing factors driving sales among consumers. Commercial operators are more concerned about power, performance, charging solutions and cost, Keffer said.

They want to know how many batteries will be needed for a day’s work, how battery-powered equipment stacks up against gasoline-powered products, what kind of fuel savings will be realized, and how batteries should be regularly charged.

“This is a pivotal moment in our company’s history,” Keffer said, noting Stihl will continue to invest in battery technology while still supporting the “sustainable and environmentally friendly advancement” of its gasoline-powered products to meet the demands of commercial customers who wish to choose their preferred power source.

Going all out in battery

One manufacturer that has never produced a gasoline-powered product is Greenworks Commercial.

“We’ve spent the last 21 years developing battery products which gives us a competitive edge over other brands,” Per Kvarby, vice-president of product management and marketing, said.

He noted batteries are one thing, but how they’re charged is another.

“This is a question that is mostly unanswered in the market today,” he said.

Greenworks offers multiple charging solutions, Kvarby said, adding one size doesn’t fit all. A shop charging solution, for example, enables multiple battery caddies to be charged from a single outlet. An “energy box” allows the simultaneous charging of two zero turns and 12 batteries from zero to 100 per cent in a little more than an hour while on the road.

Greenworks has addressed ordinances that have outlawed blowers and other equipment that surpass decibel levels exceeding 65. Kvarby said the company has responded with blowers and chain saws that not only meet mandated noise requirements but deliver the power commercial operators demand. It has introduced a HOG (high output gasless) saw that produces the equivalent power of a 70cc gasoline-powered saw.

Kvarby said 82-volt batteries powering Greenworks’ commercial-grade products are “potent” enough to achieve the power output needed.

Chain saw options

Chain saw manufacturers, including Greenworks, Stihl, Kress, Echo, DeWalt, Senix and Husqvarna, have incorporated Oregon Tool blades into many of their products.

Oregon, which represents about 60 per cent of the chain saw market, has conversion kits for both gasoline and cordless saws. Its Speed Cut Nano blade, introduced in 2020, was designed with a cordless chain in mind, CEO Elliott Zimmer said. The blade was found at Equip Expo on several models of saws manufactured by other companies.

Zimmer said the end users of Oregon’s blades claim they can cut 24 per cent faster, get 10 per cent more cuts per charge, and experience less fatigue due to smooth-cutting chains.

This article is part of the Technology Week.
This article is part of the Equipment Week.

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