LOUISVILLE — The smooth black container in Ann Roche's hand resembles a carrying case, until she plugs it into the top of a silver lawn mower. She is demonstrating the latest thing in mower technology, a rechargeable, removable battery pack. The invention would be the pride of any power equipment manufacturer, except here it was unveiled by one of the world's largest makers of gasoline engines, Briggs & Stratton Corp.
Briggs & Stratton's 10-month scramble to develop an electric power-pack system is indicative of the changes occurring in the world of outdoor power equipment.
A visit to the industry's annual trade show revealed just how dynamic this push toward innovation has become. About 25,000 dealers, distributors and retailers converged recently for the three-day expo given by 600 exhibitors; the show is sponsored by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, based in Alexandria, Va., and is used to introduce equipment going on sale next winter and spring: lawn mowers of every imaginable type, plus string trimmers, leaf blowers, lawn edgers, chain saws, rototillers and snow blowers.
Amid the hoopla was the very real sense that a once conservative industry has raced to reinvent itself in the past two years in response to two main pressures: more women entering the marketplace and growing demands from environmentalists for quieter, cleaner equipment.