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Kohler's New Arrival
by Mike Dahl, LC/DBM

LC/DBM editor Mike Dahl traveled to Wisconsin (though not on this Gravely Pro-Turn 400 XDZ with a 72-inch deck) where a select group of trade media representatives got a peak at the next generation of Kohler engines.

In late August, I traveled over 1,700 miles to meet a recent addition to the landscape family.

This "getting acquainted" trip took me to the small village of Kohler, Wis., where, not coincidentally, the Kohler Company is located. Most of the world knows Kohler for their kitchen and bath products but in this clan we also recognize them for their power group, founded more than 90 years ago.

The new family member is the Kohler Command PRO® EFI 824cc gasoline engine that, among other things, is destined to provide muscle to ZTR mowers. During the visit, which was officially titled the Kohler Engines Editors' Conference, other industry trade magazine editors and I were treated to presentations and discussions about the engine, a tour of the factory, and test drives of mowers outfitted with the new power plant.

First Impressions
I had always wanted to visit Wisconsin. It appeared to me to be as picturesque as my home state of Montana - minus the mountains. As I made my way from the airport in Milwaukee to Kohler about 60 miles north, this appearance was confirmed.

At the risk of starting to read like a travelogue, I also have to note that when pulling into the town itself, I was stirred by its air of tradition, which ultimately helped shape my overall sense of the product.

The company was founded in 1873 in nearby Sheboygan. The Village of Kohler was established in the early twentieth century and, according to our press kit, is the only planned community of that era flourishing today. The more than 4,000 acres of land within its borders is said to be carefully developed. As proof, historic buildings fluently coexist with modern structures.

The first evening while walking back to my room after dinner at The American Club, which was constructed in 1918 to provide housing for the immigrants who came to work at Kohler Co., restored in 1981, subsequently placed on the National Register of Historic Places and awarded, as only 44 other hotels in North America have been, five-star and five-diamond ratings, I was lured by a literal buzz in the air to the old factory buildings that still produce Kohler's much admired and desired kitchen and bath fixtures, faucets, cabinetry and accessories. I watched as work proceeded as it probably has for over 100 years.

In the commercial turf segment, OEMs are putting out product lineups that include equipment with faster ground speeds and larger decks, using more power. Click image to enlarge.

Back to Work Myself
A visit to the engine factory, which is much more modern than the one whose perimeter I walked the night before, was the first item on the agenda the next day. There we got down to the business at hand - being introduced to the Command PRO® EFI 824cc engine.

Kohler had identified three key market trends in commercial mowing: the availability of ZTR mowers with decks 54 inches and larger was increasing, as was the typical maximum ground speed and horsepower of those mowers. For example, the typical maximum ground speed for ZTRs in 2005 was six to eight mph: in 2011 that speed had increased to 12 to 15 mph.

They felt that this market was trending toward a space that was not well served by any engine brand at the time and saw the opportunity to be a leader in that space as far as power and fuel efficiency was concerned.

According to the Kohler team, they set out to design and build an engine that would provide ''the power required for tough mowing conditions, tall wet grass, mulching, bagging, and hills.''

Specific objectives included a torque profile 10 percent greater than competitive engines, and fuel efficiency equivalent to their smaller 747cc Command Pro EFI.

To that end, the 824cc Command PRO® EFI engine was equipped with a highly-tuned air intake system to enhance airflow and maximize power and torque, and the company's closed-loop, electronic fuel injection system, in which an oxygen sensor in the muffler continuously analyzes the air/fuel mixture. If it strays from the ideal level, the sensor triggers adjustments to the amount of fuel injected into the system.

The engine also features two spark plugs per cylinder head to deliver enhanced combustion for maximized fuel efficiency and engine torque; specially engineered baffles, cylinder heads and crankcase fins to provide efficient engine cooling; and a commercial high-density air cleaner to help minimize debris reaching the engine. Also available is an optional electronic governor, designed to deliver better throttle response, engine load pickup and stability.

Compared to the Kohler 747cc engine that offers less than 27 horsepower, the Command PRO 824 is available in four models that offer between 27 and 33 horsepower. As for fuel efficiency, the company states that commercial users will be able to save at least $600 per engine per year in fuel costs over similar sized carbureted engines, based on typical commercial cutter usage. They freely admit that their EFI engines use up to 25 percent less fuel when compared to one of their carbureted engines under similar load conditions.

Kohler will also introduce two propane Command PRO 824 engines, which can save commercial mowers even more on fuel costs and eliminate the need for aftermarket propane kits that, according to Kohler, typically need fuel adjustment, priming and often don't perform as well.

The 824cc Command PRO EFI engine comes with Kohler's closed-loop, electronic fuel injection system; two spark plugs per cylinder head to deliver enhanced combustion for maximized fuel efficiency and engine torque; and an optional electronic governor, designed to deliver better throttle response, engine load pickup and stability.

The 824cc Command PRO EFI engine was put through more than 27,500 hours of testing. The engine will be available on numerous commercial mowers for the 2015 model year.

Taking It for a Spin
The test drive was certainly the highlight of the presentation. These engines strapped to a Gravely and an Exmark ZTR did not disappoint. Putting it through its paces, I dropped the deck on the Gravely at near full speed into tall, somewhat wet grass and got only a brief lag before the engine kicked back up to full torque. I am certainly no expert when it comes to ZTRs but I was struck by the power and speed that these test cases delivered.

And after a reported 27,500+ hours of testing, this engine will be available on numerous commercial mowers for the 2015 model year.

Now since my experience with ZTRs and their engines is extremely limited, I am not in a position to endorse the Kohler 824cc Command PRO EFI based on my test drives. I will say however that the power and fuel efficiency numbers when matched up against the competition were impressive.

But what really impressed me, as I alluded to earlier, was the company itself - its history of achievement and its respect for that history while still maintaining a focus on innovation, and more importantly, its people. From David Kohler, company president and COO, to our bus drivers, everyone I came into contact with was genuinely welcoming and thoughtful.

From what I witnessed, Kohler is a first-class operation. Excellence seems to be in their DNA so it is easy to trust that the 824cc Command PRO EFI is nothing short of a top-notch engine.

It was my pleasure to get to know their new pride and joy.

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May 26, 2019, 3:14 pm PDT

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