by Linda Abu-Shalback, Associate Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine
APPLIANCE magazine traveled to Louisville, KY, U.S., to attend the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment EXPO from July 19-21.
An Industry On The Grow
The 2002 International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition was the dream trade show for those interested in the concept of "more power." The show was filled with outdoor lawn equipment that could do more faster, more quietly, more efficiently, and with the least amount of emissions.
While the show's sponsor, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), is predicting that consumer and commercial turf product shipments will continue to fall the rest of this year, the Association says that the outlook is good for 2003, with a 3.3-percent increase in shipments of walker mowers and a 4.5-percent increase in front engine tractor shipments. And while other trade shows have experienced decreased attendance, the Expo had a 2-percent increase this year, or 21,579 attendees, exemplifying the continued strong interest in the industry.
OPEI is also predicting a shipment increase of 3.1 percent for commercial intermediate walker shipments and a 5.3-percent unit improvement for commercial riding mowers. In a time when it seems that consumers would rather stay at home than travel, and are also willing to spend more money on their outdoor lawn and garden equipment, the lines between commercial and residential designations for outdoor appliances have become blurred.
"We were shocked," said Ken Raney, advertising manager for Hustler Turf Equipment (Hesston, KS, U.S.) about the company's reaction to discovering that individual consumers were investing thousands of dollars to purchase the company's commercial zero-turn radius mowers for their homes. Zero-turn radius mowers are popular with landscapers because of their time-saving convenience and maneuverability, but consumers are also becoming interested in them.
Hustler has since introduced its Super Mini Z™ which has a top speed of 13 mph, fuel-efficient engines from 20 to 25 hp, and a foot-operated deck-lift system with cutting heights from 1.5 in. While the new mowers cost less than the company's other commercial mowers, Mr. Raney said Hustler hopes to attract more high-end residential consumers, and it seems to be working. "We can hardly keep up in production," he told APPLIANCE magazine.
Chris Conroy, regional sales manager for the Toro Company (Bloomington, MN, U.S.) estimates that 30-35 percent of Toro's commercial mowers are sold to residential consumers. He said that people are also using more landscapers, which could also increase commercial sales, because "a lot of people have less time these days."
Toro has also introduced a version of a zero turning radius mower. The Z Master Compact ZRT is only 78-in long and 43-45-in wide at the wheels. While powerful and easy to maneuver in tight spaces, the company said the ZRTs require minimal trailer space and have hydraulically dampened dual wrap-around steering levers to help ensure superior handling and control.
Dixon Industries, Inc. (Coffeyville, KS, U.S.) says it is the company that originally introduced the Zero Turning Radius, or ZTR, concept. Dixon's patented "Z" drive Transaxle and Hydrostatic Drive transfers power to the drive wheels independently so mowers turn within their own dimensions, and are very maneuverable. Dixon's new ZTR 4518 reportedly can cut mowing time in half with the easy maneuverability and its 42-50-in cut widths.
Speed is another high-end feature that is crossing over from commercial to residential sales. Cliff Franks, territory manager for Dixie Chopper (Clinton, OH, U.S.) calls consumers who buy the higher end equipment "weekend warriors" or pro-consumer, meaning consumers who want to be pros. Dixie Chopper mowers can mow lawns at up to 15 mph, making them very popular with that type of clientele. "It cuts mowing time in half. While they want to do a good job, they don't want to spend all weekend doing it," he said.
Let it Snow
While it was far from snowing during the July EXPO, the hot weather did not deter manufacturers from introducing new snow throwers featuring the latest in ergonomics, power, and environmental friendliness. And according to OPEI, snow throwers are a product that is seeing significant increasing interest. Twelve month shipments of snow thrower products for the 2002 model year (March 1 to Feb. 28) increased a substantial 34.9 percent over model year 2001.
Husqvarna Forest & Garden Co, (Charlotte, NC, U.S.) announced its re-entrance into the snow thrower market at the show. The company had stopped selling snow throwers to focus on other products, but recently decided to return to the market to benefit consumers. "We wanted to be a total solutions provider," said John Bailey, business unit manager, Consumer Lawn and Garden. All of Husqvarna's snow blowers feature overhead valve (OHV) engines, which are said to reduce fuel and oil consumption.
The 1130STE snow blower is Husqvarna's largest, featuring an 11 hp engine, a 30-in width, and 23-in intake height to clear snow quickly. The electric start feature reportedly makes the starting process easier and faster.
"We try to make hard work a little easier to do," said Mr. Bailey.
Honda Power Equipment (Alpharetta, GA, U.S.) reportedly has packed a lot of snow-moving power into its compact HS520 model snow thrower. It clears a 20-in path, throwing snow up to 26 ft, yet is light and maneuverable and features an auger-assist drive which helps propel it in most snow conditions when the rubber-edged auger contacts the surface.
Ariens Company (Brillion, WI, U.S.) has also introduced a compact model, which features two-stage action and power. The ST524 two-stage Sno-Thro™ uses a slower-turning auger to bring snow into the unit. The snow is then fed into a second impeller stage which launches the snow out through a chute. The unique feature about the 524 is the ergonomic bail system. Both bails are operated independently (tractor and auger-impeller) or as one if held together. It is also lightweight at 150 lb, and is therefore easy to maneuver, according to the company.
Ergonomics and emissions also play an important role in the design of electric power equipment, according to Mark Michaels, business unit manager, Chain Saw & Product Safety Administrator, Husqvarna.
"Ergonomics should mean that power equipment is basically just an extension of the human body," he said. Toward that end, Husqvarna has introduced its 326LX trimmers. The trimmers are reportedly lightweight and feature soft, rubber-coated handles to provide comfort and an ergonomically angled handle with a wing nut to make adjustments quick and easy. The trimmers also feature Husqvarna's new E-Tech II engine, which is said to have low emissions and low noise. E-Tech II refines Husqvarna's products using the E-Tech engine, which was first introduced in 1997, and was reportedly used on the first trimmers, blowers, and hedge trimmer sold with catalytic converters in the U.S.
"E-Tech II reduces emissions below mandated levels without sacrificing performance or ergonomic benefits," said Mr. Michaels.
Honda also addressed environmental concerns in the introduction of its HHE31CA edger for easy sidewalk trimming. The 4-stroke stick edger reportedly is fuel-efficient and virtually smoke free. It features a powerful Honda mini 4-stroke engine and runs on regular gasoline. Honda also offers loop handles on the edger for comfort and ease.
John Deere has incorporated comfort, as well as speed, into its BP60 Backpack Blower. The blower features a 201 mph maximum air velocity and a 59.2-cc Kawasaki engine. It is said to be easy to use, due to a pistol type throttle which also provides precise, comfortable control of sweeping force during operation. Padded shoulder straps offer comfort and can be easily adjusted while the blower is on the operator's back.
Despite reports that blame lawn and garden equipment for high-level emissions, OPEI says that lawn and garden equipment engines currently contribute only 2-3 percent of U.S. nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. And while the issues surrounding emissions and the environment are always on the minds of manufacturers of lawn and garden equipment, discussion of the topic seemed to take a backseat to other innovations at this year's EXPO. The reasons given by OEMs included environmental friendliness becoming more of a standard than a feature, manufacturers leaving the environmental challenges up to the engine manufacturers, and shifting priorities after last year's terrorist attacks in the U.S. "It is still a big concern, but the hype has died down," said Mr. Franks of Dixie Chopper.
According to OPEI, however, environment-related standards are always a focus of the organization. OPEI said that lawn and garden engines which are compliant with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations are generally between 75-90 percent cleaner than engines that were sold 5 years ago. But the efforts continue, according to Patrick W. Curtiss, vice president, Technical & Statistical Services for OPEI. "The situation is much, much better, but we will continue to work with the EPA on environmental issues and the standards related to it," he said.
"The better products become, the harder it is to make them even better than they are," he added.