It's a constant goal of lawn maintenance contractors to find the most efficient and cost-effective ways to maintain properties in order to remain competitive. Dealers add value to their offering when they can help contractors understand the benefits of diesel technology—and whether or not that technology makes sense for a contractor's operation.
Many manufacturers have, or will be introducing, diesel-powered mowers. Diesel could prove to be a cost-effective and powerful option for landscape maintenance.
“A switch to diesel can be done gradually without disruption to normal routines after doing some research. Careful consideration to the product’s design and the manufacturer’s experience with diesel power should be considered before conversion to diesel takes place,” explains Ray Garvey, product specialist in the marketing division at The Grasshopper Company. “Less fuel consumption, fewer emissions and faster job completion times mean the sooner the switch to diesel is made, the sooner the user can begin reaping the rewards.”
Fuel and product research
As an increasing number of mower manufacturers introduce diesel products, more information has become available about the technology and its benefits. Grasshopper says their diesel engines offer an increase in power and a longer engine life.
“Diesel satisfies customer needs at lower horsepower ranges due to the high energy density of the fuel, the way it is combusted, and the substantial torque power provided by the engine design,” explains Garvey. Grasshopper reportedly introduced the first diesel-powered zero-turn mower in 1983.
Dealers should contact mower manufacturers for more information on the diesel products they are considering offering customers. Being more knowledgeable on the product helps you to consult with customers about the technology and emission restrictions.
Tightening restrictions on emissions is a focus for all gasoline and diesel mower manufacturers. Diesel engines specifically, between 25 and 74 horsepower, must be Tier 4 emission-compliant by 2013. Most diesel mower engines are on the low end of that scale and already meet said requirements.
“Diesel models emit only a fraction of the carbon monoxide of gasoline and propane models,” says Garvey.
When the larger-horsepower engines are required to meet these emissions standards, it is assumed the cost of the mowers will go up. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean added cost for the customer, who can easily complete a job with a lower horsepower unit.
Diesel-powered equipment can be a good fit for many fleets. A variety of horsepower and deck options are available, and even more options could become available as this product segment’s popularity grows. The mowers offer high performance in tackling tough mowing jobs. Many also power attachments your customers likely use.
“Often it’s the condition of the property being mowed that warrants diesel power as much as the size of the property,” explains Garvey. “If the grass is frequently tall or moist, diesel power is sometimes preferred to get the mowing done faster because the extra power delivers a quality cut at faster mowing speeds.”
While commercial contractors prefer the extra power offered by diesel, contractors who maintain smaller properties are choosing diesel models to reduce emissions. Highlight to customers how the diesel engines feature simplified construction and easier maintenance.
“Diesel mowers have no spark plugs, plug wires or carburetor to maintain,” says Garvey. “Less maintenance, combined with less downtime for refueling and faster job completion, allows users to mow at faster speeds while still getting a quality cut.” Garvey adds that the diesel engine more efficiently transfers power to the deck than its gas and propane counterparts.
Return on investment
The initial purchase price of a zero-turn mower is understandably a big part in the contractor's decision-making process. The heavier construction of a diesel engine means the price of a diesel unit can sometimes come as a shock to new buyers.
“The interest among U.S. contractors is not as strong on diesel zero-turns as it is for liquid and air-cooled gasoline,” says Brad Unruh, product manager at Hustler Turf. “I think the initial purchase price definitely has something to do with it, but there is higher fuel efficiency in diesel compared to gas.”
While that initial cost of purchasing a diesel mower may seem high, the payback from the purchases can come quickly with regular use. Diesel fuel offers more energy in each gallon than in gasoline, and the engines have shown to have a longer life.
“At today’s fuel prices, the reward for purchasing diesel-powered products occurs much sooner than before,” Garvey assures. “The price difference between comparable gas and diesel models can be as low as 15%, which can be recuperated in less than a year at some commercial operations. Beyond that, the diesel-powered mower can pay out years of dividends and positive return on investment.”
According to Garvey, multiple sources have indicated that fuel savings can be 700 gallons or more per 1,000 hours of use. With current fuel prices, a contractor can break even on his purchase in the first year of running the unit.
“If the extra billable hours and less downtime are factored in, ROI can be in positive territory as early as 200 hours of operation,” explains Garvey. “From that point on, the savings and earning potential are phenomenal. A Grasshopper MaxTorque diesel model is earning positive ROI much sooner than comparable propane models, as those models cost essentially the same to purchase and use considerably more fuel while decreasing productivity.”
Choosing fuel savings from a powerful mower that has shown to have an extended engine life sounds like an easy decision to make. While it can be the right decision for your contractor customer’s fleet, you should help them carefully research the product so they can make a confident decision.
“The user needs to be confident after research that the diesel design is ‘done right’ and the unit is as smooth-running and handles like a gas-powered unit with all the extra power channeled to the implement drive,” says Garvey. “Then the move to diesel can be made with confidence.”