From EFI engines and propane to new standard comfort features, zero-turn radius (ZTR) mowers continue to evolve to meet landscapers’ needs.
“Product refinement is currently trending,” says Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere. “Whether it’s fuel efficiency or ride comfort, manufacturers are tweaking their line-ups to better meet customer demands.”
Beyond physical comfort, many manufacturers are also adding components for operator convenience.
Husqvarna introduced SmartSwitch, an operator interface, to its zero turns. The technology includes keyless operation, security features and real-time feedback.
To start the mower, operators enter a programmable code into the display. For going in reverse, there’s also a one-touch mower capability with a lit icon when activated. SmartSwitch includes other lit indicators for items like “apply park brake” or “disengage cutting blades.”
While all of these features continue to make a mark on the industry, the main focus for ZTRs continues to be on engines and fuel.
Rev up efficiency
Electronic fuel injection (EFI) engines are nothing new to the industry, but they are just now becoming available across mower brands.
“The main advantages are more reliable cold starts and more efficient diagnosis of service issues,” says Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper.
This engine is also helping to bridge the gap between customers and alternative fuels. “The EFI system is the catalyst to making propane successful,” says Garry Busboom, chief development engineer, Exmark. Tying in the two, Exmark offers an EFI/propane ZTR, the Lazer Z S-Series, which has a Kohler Command Pro engine.
“Some landscapers may have accounts that are more environmentally conscious, so they would have an additional incentive to use propane and EFI,” Busboom says.
Propane costs vary depending on the region and customer, so it pays for landscapers to negotiate the price with suppliers, Busboom says.
“The key thing to remember about propane is the usage rate is about the same as gasoline – the advantage is propane is less expensive to purchase,” Minas explains. “So the true cost benefit is tied to local propane prices.”
An added benefit for propane is that it can be used in areas that have “Ozone Days” or days where gas engines are regulated to mitigate emissions, Minas adds.
“Propane can really help anyone, granted their local propane prices remain lower than gasoline,” Minas says. “During the summer months, many areas see lower propane prices, which certainly works to the advantage of landscapers.”
But this alternative fuel isn’t surpassing gasoline just yet.
“Propane is slowly gaining a little bit of traction,” says Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries – which manufactures Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mowers. “It’s not in the everyday vocabulary by any means, but there are more people making it available.”
For propane use to become widespread, Unruh says it needs to be more readily available. “Right now, every corner has a gas station, not a place to fill up on propane,” Unruh says.
But don’t expect fuel-efficiency improvements to go away anytime soon. All of the experts say this trend, along with a continued focus on comfort, will continue to grow as more owners learn about the benefits.