Following the lead of battery-powered cars, battery-powered riding mowers are beginning to show up in the market. Battery-powered, small-width, rotary, walk-behind mowers have been available for some time, so there's precedence for larger ride-on units suitable for commercial cutting.
The biggest challenge manufacturers face is sufficient battery power to operate heavier riding mowers with wider-width cutting decks. Recent advances in battery technology have several manufacturers testing designs and anticipating entry into the electric riding mower market in the foreseeable future.
Three manufacturers are selling electric riding mowers. Excel Industries, Inc., is selling the Zeon, a 42-inch electric rider, the Ariens Company the AMP, a 34-inch ride, and Mean Green Products' 62-inch Commercial CX-62 cutter that attracted lots of attention at the 2011 GIE. Lead acid batteries power the units.
"The Zeon, an electric riding mower, is an extremely quiet mower so it's great for areas where noise from mowing grass is an issue," says Frank Nuss, marketing and product specialist for Hustler. The Zeon was introduced in 2009 and interest continues to grow, thanks in part to high-rising fuel prices and the publicity generated by hybrid and electric automobiles.
The Zeon's 48-volt system uses four 12-volt lead acid batteries, similar to golf cart batteries. The Zeon has two electric transmissions powered by induction motors, operating independently for true zero-degree turning. Run time mowing grass is 80 minutes and recharge time is 16 hours, but the Zeon also features a "quick charger" that will recharge the batteries in a few hours for some additional mowing time that same day.
The Ariens Company has offered the AMP electric riding mower for three years. The AMP is powered by a 48-volt, 75-AH battery system that is comprised of five 48-volt 15-AH sub packs. The AMP has a hydrostatic transaxle and features a twin-blade cutting deck. The AMP provides up to 75 minutes of cutting on a single charge and recharges overnight.
Husqvarna plans to introduce electric riding mowers in the near future. "Our launch will begin in Europe with limited production followed by North America and the worldwide market," says Brian Rowan, global director of tractors at Husqvarna. The company has been testing electric mowers for some time, and is targeting a 1-acre run time on a single charge of lead acid batteries. Husqvarna believes lithium batteries are also a potential power source. "Husqvarna is focused on building the right product at the best price and value and we base our product specifications on consumer needs," says Rowan.
Mean Green says its Commercial CX-62 can mow four to five acres on a single five-hour charge. It can be operated seven to eight mph.
Jack Gust, chief engineer of The Toro Company's Center Advanced Technology says the biggest challenges with electric mowers are run time, battery life and customer satisfaction.
"Toro currently offers the e-Cycler, a 36-volt walk-behind mower, and is interested in electric-powered riding mowers." says Gust. "The charge cycle life of lead acid batteries is currently between 300 and 600 cycles. Lithium ion batteries offer five times the cycle life and three times the run time compared to lead acid batteries at an increased cost."
As battery technology advances, we'll see more manufacturers offering electric riding mowers, and eventually in larger heavy-duty sizes including commercial models. To date, price has been a challenge as manufactures develop battery-powered equipment that can be offered at comparable prices to gas-powered units.
The potential for electric-powered lawn equipment is exciting and the advances in technology will increase opportunities for manufactures to enter the market. Lithium ion batteries that significantly increase run time and recharge cycles will become available. The possibilities for powering larger riding mowers will no longer just be gasoline, diesel and propane anymore. Expect to see more electric-powered equipment in your commercial mowing future.
Rick is president of Lafayette Consulting Co., a PLANET Trailblazer and owns a maintenance company and works with contractors to improve their businesses. He serves on PLANET's Landscape Management Specialty Group, Safety and Governmental Affairs Committees. You can reach Rick through LawnSite or at firstname.lastname@example.org.