Could Battery-Powered Riding Mowers Catch On?

AMP Rider

hide captionThe AMP Rider is the first battery-powered riding lawn mower for the mass consumer market, according to the Ariens Company. The company says the machine is only half as loud as its gas-powered siblings.

Courtesy of Ariens

For more than 50 years, the Ariens Company has been making lawn mowers in the small town of Brillion, Wis.

Ariens makes several types of gasoline-powered riding mowers, and it now plans to introduce what it calls the first battery-powered riding lawn mower for the mass consumer market.

The AMP Rider, while not exactly silent, is only half as loud as its gas-powered sibling, according to Ariens. The company also says the new mower does not directly pollute the air, require any messy oil and rides more smoothly than a gas-powered mower.

That could be big news in an industry that sells 1.5 million riding mowers in the United States each year.

Dan Ariens, the company's president, says that while the AMP Rider is not quite the holy grail of lawn mowers, it is an innovation.

"We've come up with a product that's very easy to operate," Ariens says. "It is very quiet. It's going to cut a substantial amount of grass for the typical American home, and from that standpoint, maybe we're at least out reaching for the grail."

Ariens says the battery-powered mower will, in most cases, perform just as well as a gas-powered model. He worries, though, that a recession is a tough time to bring out any new product — especially one with a bigger price tag. The AMP Rider sells for around $3,300, which is hundreds more than some comparable gas-fueled riding mowers.

The Toro Company in Minnesota says it is also working on alternative-powered mowers, but research director Dana Lonn says concerns about consumer reaction has kept them out of the big box stores.

"I would say the consumer market is very challenging, just because price is so key to penetration in that market. It's hard in the Home Depot to convince somebody to buy a product that costs a little bit more," Lonn says.

Lonn says Toro is keeping close tabs on Ariens' experiment with the new battery-powered riding mower. So are environmentalists such as Rosemary Wehnes, who works for the Sierra Club in Wisconsin and is part of the Blue Green Alliance, a partnership with labor groups.

Wehnes says that while many consumers won't spend $3,300 for a riding mower, prices will likely drop if companies embrace the technology.

"It's really important to see that companies are investing in new technology that will help maintain the jobs we have and, hopefully, create more green jobs in the future," says Wehnes.

The Ariens Company says recharging its new riding mower will cost about $40 a year, or about one-fifth the cost of running and maintaining a gasoline-powered riding mower. That spread increases, of course, if gas prices go back up.

Chuck Quirmbach reports from Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis.

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