Stihl has leadership in both directions
15 November 2023
Virginia-based product manufacturer picks two for its outdoor power equipment: batteries and engines
Companies in the outdoor power equipment space have been making and selling battery-powered handheld tools for years. That market – think leaf blowers and chainsaws — has long used gasoline-powered and corded electric units. These days, you can’t walk down the aisles of an equipment dealer or a big box store without seeing a wide range of choices of power equipment that use lithium-ion batteries, including push mowers and pressure washers.
Stihl launched its first battery-operated tool, the HSA 65 and HSA 85 hedge trimmers, in 2009. The tools and their corresponding battery packs and chargers have been under continuous development since then.
The company introduced battery-powered push mowers to the U.S. market in 2017 with the RMA 460, which is powered by its homeowner-oriented AK battery and then paired that introduction with an AP battery series lawn mower, the RMA 510, designed for larger yards and professionals. Today, the company’s catalog includes more than 80 battery-operated tools for private consumers and professionals.
“Those models have been very well received in the market and sales have climbed every year since we introduced them,” said Andrew Johnson, product manager, Stihl. “Dealers and end-users love them. The loyalty that we have with our customers is already very strong, and that same end-user is switching gears and going to battery. It’s not just a certain age bracket, either. It’s everybody from the millennials to the baby boomers. Many of them are jumping on board because of ease of use and the absence of maintenance.”
“The battery market is starting to gain some serious momentum. A lot of the government initiatives, especially in California, are further driving battery adoption. That obviously helps with some sales, and the power is in the hands of consumers to go to the leading manufacturers while they’re researching the products that are offered.”
Stihl Group finished fiscal year 2022 with revenue of 5.5 billion euros (more than $6 billion), equating to a growth of 8.6% compared to the previous year. The company generated 90% of its revenue outside of Germany, its domestic market. Those numbers include what the company said was a slight decline in the gasoline-powered segment in North America.
“The shift from gasoline to battery power is in full swing,” said Chairman of the Stihl Executive Board Michael Traub. “Stihl is actively shaping this transformation by focusing on dual technological leadership. We are consistently and systematically making massive investments in battery technology while continuing to fully support the sustainable and environmentally friendly advancement of our gasoline-powered products.”
The company said its battery-powered products represent its fastest-growing market segment and account for 20% of the Stihl tools sold worldwide. By 2027, it has said it plans to increase this share to at least 35%, with a goal of 80% for 2035.
“The aim is for Stihl to take on a leading position at the head of the battery-operated market,” Traub said. “To this end, our top priority in terms of investment lies in the development and production of innovative and powerful battery-operated products.”
The company said its key pillars for the advancement of battery technology are green electricity, durable higher-performance batteries and chargers, and high-efficiency electric motors.
Education also plays a role, especially among the company’s more than 10,000 authorized dealers.
“A lot of users compare power to noise,” said Johnson. “Think of a chainsaw. You can feel it, you hear it — you can tell it’s running. The battery unit that would be the equivalent of the gas chainsaw is just as powerful, but it’s far quieter. There’s an educational process for the end user to understand that it may not be as loud, even if it’s just as powerful. The other side is educating them on battery run times and battery usage. If you’re looking at a blower or a trimmer that you’re going be using in your fleet, it really comes down to throttle time – your run time is only when you’re using the throttle.”
For professionals who work out of an equipment trailer all day, charging must also be figured into the process.
“They used to carry a 5 gal. gas can and refill as they need, but now you have to be proactive and have batteries charged ready to go on standby so you can just swap out in the field and continue working,” said Johnson. “The entire industry is working on mobile charging solutions.”
Stihl battery-operated products and components are currently manufactured at the Stihl locations in Virginia Beach, Va., China, Germany and Austria. From 2024 on, the company will also start making battery-operated products at the site of its headquarters in Waiblingen, Germany, and at its new production site in Oradea, Romania.
In late 2021, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved a measure that will require most newly manufactured small off-road engines such as those found in leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other equipment be zero emission starting in 2024.
The requirement is an amendment to CARB’s existing small off-road engine regulations first adopted in 1990 and applies to manufacturers and will impact new equipment from model year 2024 and later only.
“We call it CARB 2024,” said Johnson. “The industry seems to be bracing itself because we often see these regulations trickle down to other states. As a company, Stihl is very much ready for this change. A lot of education is going into the dealer network in California with our branch at Pacific Stihl putting in a lot of time showing the guys and gals that our product portfolio is ready. We will continue to add to that portfolio, too.”
Organizations like the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) are working to provide end users with third-party advice and education needed to make the switch from gas to battery-powered tools. AGZA’s field-tested certification (AFTC) certifies which manufacturers and battery tools are capable of replacing gas machines for both the professional and homeowner. Stihl has maintained an independent relationship with AGZA for over a decade, during which they have worked toward the common goal of providing the industry with the knowledge end users need when making the switch to battery.
“The AGZA certification is an extra step we take to give our dealers and our users, both professional and consumer users, some guidance when they’re buying battery. It’s an extra certification that the company goes through on battery units to confirm that they stand up to a longer run time and a longer durability life. Our partnership with AGZA provides our customers with confidence knowing that they bought a quality battery product that they can count on for years to come.”
As part of its dual technological leadership goal, the company said it is also investing in the advancement of internal combustion engines, particularly in terms of their sustainability.
“We are consciously focusing on dual technological leadership,” said Traub. “That’s because we align our actions systematically with the needs of our customers. Battery-powered tools are the future. At the same time, there are still many applications and regions of the world that require products powered by combustion engines. For those customers, we are developing visionary and environmentally friendly solutions.”
Stihl will focus on biofuels and e-fuels. Developed in-house and currently available, its MotoMix Eco fuel has 10% renewable raw materials, such as forestry residue and non-edible parts of plants.
The company is also working with e-fuels, synthetic fuels produced from green hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) using wind energy that are virtually carbon-neutral and that can power existing tools with no technical alterations. The company said it plans to achieve the widespread use of e-fuels in its tools starting in 2027.
Stihl said its first battery-powered backpack blower is also the most powerful battery blower in the line-up/ Using a brushless motor, the BGA 300 delivers a maximum air speed of 194 mph (571 cfm). Certified by AGZA, the blower delivers up to 140 minutes of performance when paired with the Stihl AR 3000 L lithium-ion battery.
Three power levels plus a boost mode improve battery efficiency for consistent power throughout the battery charge. Modeled after its gas counterparts, the company said the BGA 300 gives users a durable build while providing an ergonomic design in a virtually maintenance-free package.