By John Kmitta
When it comes to mower trends, one area of the mower market that has grown considerably during the past five or six years is that of propane-powered mowers. But what is the current state of propane mower options, and where is the market headed?
“More than 150 propane mower models are produced by 14 manufacturers today,” said Jeremy Wishart, director of off-road business development, Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “But what’s more newsworthy is that those 150 models include a variety of zero-turn, wide-area walk behind, and stand-on units, when just a few years ago it was tough to find many propane models that weren’t ZTRs.”
According to Wishart, that data indicates that more contractors are looking to operate their mower model of choice with propane, and OEMs are responding by making those models available.
“In addition to those 14 OEMs offering propane are four different EPA- and CARB-certified aftermarket conversion kit manufacturers,” Wishart added. “Contractors can now transition to propane however they’re most comfortable doing so, whether that’s converting their existing equipment or purchasing a propane-dedicated unit manufactured by their preferred brand.”
A PERC survey in 2016 found that 34 percent of commercial landscapers (at the time) were considering propane to power their equipment fleets. Also in 2016, PERC conducted a survey of outdoor power equipment dealers, and found that more than half of outdoor power equipment dealers expected to be offering commercial propane mowers to their landscape contractor customers within three years. In addition, the overall opinion of commercial propane mowers was overwhelmingly positive among dealers.
“Of the respondents who had prior experience with propane machines, 80 percent rated their performance on par with gasoline mowers; and 90 percent responded they had a favorable or very favorable opinion of commercial propane mowers,” said Wishart.
According to Wishart, PERC will be conducting another survey this spring to continue tracking contractor and dealer preferences and perceptions.
Wishart added that PERC has also heard from end users that implementing sustainable practices is increasingly becoming an important part of their business model.
“Commercial clients, for example, are increasingly seeking environmentally friendly methods to support their own corporate sustainability efforts,” said Wishart. “Homeowners are also becoming increasingly attuned to the potential impact of engine emissions.”
Wishart added that a growing understanding and acceptance among contractors that propane is cleaner, costs less, and lowers operating costs is the most important factor to increasing commercial propane mower use in the industry.
Incentive programs available to contractors also boost propane mower use. For example, PERC’s Propane Mower Incentive Program offers contractors $1,000 for every new commercial propane mower purchase and $500 for every certified propane conversion kit.
But Wishart adds that incentives like this are more of a perk than a necessity. “There are plenty of examples of contractors making the switch to propane, without utilizing the incentive program, who still experience a positive ROI – thanks to the fuel’s lower cost of operation,” he said. “Propane is consistently less expensive than gasoline. Propane mowers also cost about 30 percent less per hour to operate than gasoline and require less engine maintenance. Propane equipment’s secure, closed-loop fuel system saves money by virtually eliminating the opportunity for spills, fuel theft, and the need to sacrifice work time for trips to the gas station.”
According to Wishart, PERC estimates that there are 20,000 commercial propane mowers in operation throughout the country. “That is significant growth from 2012, when there were a few hundred propane mowers in operation and only a handful of models available by a few OEMs,” he said.
PERC expects steady growth to continue in 2018 and beyond for a variety of factors:
- Propane equipment models by more OEMs means contractors can stick with their preferred mower brand and still convert to propane.
- Propane engine and aftermarket conversion technology has made significant advancements to maximize performance and efficiency.
- More commercial and residential customers are going to ask their contractors if they operate with propane, as more customers want to incorporate “green” practices into their businesses and homes.
- High gas prices will play a role in propane taking market share from gasoline and diesel in the future.
“Another, purely anecdotal, sign that suggests propane will continue to grow in the landscape market can be found in the type of contractors applying for the Propane Mower Incentive Program,” said Wishart. “While we’ve always had healthy participation since the program first launched in 2012, we’re now seeing more second- and third-time applicants, reinforcing the belief that once a contractor converts to propane there is no going back to gasoline.”
[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April issue of OPE magazine, sister publication to Landscape Business.]