Toro expands electric fleet to commercial equipment

Starting in 2024, gas-powered lawn care equipment cannot be sold to landscaping companies in California. More restrictions are likely coming elsewhere as governments try to figure out how to lessen climate change.

But customers also are demanding change — and were before California’s mandate — pushing companies like Toro to develop battery-powered equipment, officials at the Bloomington-based company said.

Toro this fall introduced the GrandStand Revolution and Z Master Revolution, plug-in versions of its most popular commercial lawn mowers. The two join Toro’s other electric and hybrid products for golf and professional landscape management.

Nick Bloom, president of Bloomington-based Outdoor Perfection lawn care and landscaping, has used Toro equipment since he started his company in 1999. He has built his company from a few neighborhood lawn mowing contracts to a business with 21 employees with both residential and commercial contracts.

Bloom last month tried out Toro’s newest all-electric commercial-grade mowers in an all-day test event.

“I’ve seen battery technology out there, but not in the commercial world,” Bloom said. “Honestly, what is unique about this, this is the same machine that we run every single day with all our crews, except that it’s battery-powered and it’s useable right now.”

Toro already has a lineup of popular electric residential products in its Flex-Force line that uses rechargeable lithium ion-based battery packs that can be switched among different products, including 21-inch-wide lawn mowers, single-stage snow blowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers and other products.

New this snow season are two-stage snow blowers that can use multiple battery packs in the Flex-Force line.

Toro’s products in its Revolution series of all-electric commercial grade mowers use the same battery cell technology as those used in its Flex-Force line, but are powered with more and larger cells. Those batteries also are built into the machine. The Revolution mowers can then be recharged from standard 110 or 220 outlets.

Toro’s designers and engineers are interested in leveraging technology to enhance their products. The electric power adds additional performance capabilities while reducing the amount of maintenance associated with refueling, oil changes, belt changes on other basic maintenance procedures, the company said.

“We were interested in what you can do with electric,” said Chris Vogtman, director of marketing in Toro’s residential and landscape contractor business. “And not just electric for electric’s sake.”

Electric machines can feel “twitchier” than their gas counterparts. That’s where Toro concentrated design tweaks, so the Revolution series runs and feels like standard equipment and on the same frame and deck.

Toro engineers knew one of the perceptions they had to battle was range anxiety, the fear among users that batteries would run out before the day was done.

The GrandStand Revolution and Z Master Revolution were designed with power reserves to last six to nine hours of standard operation. Toro knows from its user feedback that the typical professional operator is running their machines about five hours a day.

“That was the other thing that caught my eye,” Bloom said. “This is an all day run-time deal.”

The battery-powered machines come standard with some specific features that let operators conserve power if need be, from controlling the tip speed of the mower blades to the angle of the cutting deck.

A proprietary battery management system also lets users know the status of the batteries charge and other performance measures.

And that the quieter running electric machines will be less disruptive.

“The way that more people are officing out of homes now,” Bloom said, “wow, that is going to be quite the advantage.”

Bloom also sees a future where running electric equipment or all-electric crews will be a selling point to residential and commercial clients and also that some municipal and state contracts might require the use of electric fleets.

Rechargeable batteries eventually degrade over time, but Toro expects the HyperCell batteries in the Revolution line — developed by the company in-house — to maintain 70% of their initial capacity for at least 10 years. That is the point at which most electric vehicle owners expect to replace batteries in their vehicles.

With lithium considered a critical mineral, Toro is already thinking ahead to potential uses to repurpose depleted batteries and has recycling options and programs for the Revolution and Flex-Force batteries.

The new Revolution mowers were introduced at industry trade shows this fall and will be available for purchase this spring. While Toro hasn’t published a list price for either product they will likely be twice as expensive as current gas models.

Toro’s website will soon be equipped with a return-on-investment calculator to help potential buyers understand and calculate the benefits of a higher-priced machine, taking into account lower maintenance costs.

Jukka Kukkonen, an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas who teaches a course on the electric vehicle industry, said the performance of electric residential lawn mowers is so good now that they can tackle nearly all tasks on a homeowner’s list.

Commercial-grade mowers should be an easy sell as well, said Kukkonen, also chief electric vehicle (EV) educator and strategist at Shift2Electric, an EV market consulting and training firm based in Minnesota. Shift2Electric has a page on its site dedicated to listing the available residential and commercial-grade electric lawn mowers on the market.

“When you start to do the math on how much emissions are coming just from grounds keeping, it’s a no brainer to move into electric lawn equipment,” Kukkonen said. “The emission difference is so huge, … that itself will justify the change.”

Toro is already seeing interest on the teaser website dedicated to the Revolution series.

“Battery power is in cars, it’s in the transportation industry. Now it’s real, now it’s in our industry,” Bloom said. “They are very impressive machines.”

https://www.startribune.com/toro-expands-electric-fleet-to-commercial-equipment/600116958/