In today’s Exponential Investor

  • Things to buy with a £100 voucher
  • Choice is a confusing thing
  • Laughing and being lazy

I’ve got a problem. A problem that’s up there with my thoughts on how long my two diesel-powered Germans are going to exist on the driveway.

My latest dilemma is actually somewhat related. But it’s a little more complex and potentially divisive.

And if the reaction of two of my friends is anything to go by, you too may exist on very different sides of the fence.

So, here’s my problem, and if you’d like to help with my decision-making process, feel free to email me at [email protected] with your view…

Petrol, battery or robot?

I’ve got a £100 Amazon voucher. Happy days. And I’ve been looking for a little while at getting a new lawnmower. That means with the voucher, it’s a no-brainer – it’ll clip off a nice little chunk of my potential purchase.

Hence, the decision to get a new lawnmower has been made. That’s not the problem I’m struggling with.

You see, I currently use an electric mower. One that you plug into the extension lead that’s subsequently plugged into the power socket.

In short, it’s a bloody faff. Carting around the electrical cord, the risk of running over the cord, the risk of operating electrical equipment in the rain if I’m half way through the lawns and the heavens decide to spit down on me.

Also the power point is inside, so I have to keep the doors open, which means the child may decide to just bolt outside, which at his age, I’m not super keen on him being around while I’m doing the lawn.

Now I come from a country where a lawnmower equals two or four-stroke petrol power. It means the sweet smell of mower fuel interlaced with the fine smell of freshly cut grass. Electric mowers were always something used by weirdos.

No offence to anyone – remember, I use an electric mower now. But my lawn is such that it’s just not suitable for my needs. This leaves me with some options and here’s where I need help.

You see I can purchase a four-stroke petrol powered mower. I’ve seen a beauty that even has a cup holder on it for that “tinny” I’m inevitably going to consume mid-mow.

I can also purchase a cordless electric mower powered by a couple of rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs.

Or my third and final option is to buy a robotic lawnmower. Oh yes, a robot to do my lawns. If you’ve not yet come across a robot lawn mower, think of a Roomba that instead of vacuuming, cuts the grass and leaves it a mulch on the lawn instead.

There’s also the dilemma of price and maintenance. The four-stroke I need oil and petrol for. And like any tool, needs regular cleaning and will need servicing long term (spark plugs, air filter, etc). It is however by cost, the cheapest option by some margin.

For the cordless I’m going to need two more battery packs (in addition to the ones that come with it) so that if I run out of charge (which I will) then I can swap them out. Two out, two in. There’s regular cleaning, but less maintenance, and a significant price jump from the “gas guzzler”.

And then there’s the robot. It’s streets more in terms of price – pretty much double the price of the petrol mower. And still more than the cordless. It requires cleaning, and considerable setup. But it just quietly goes about its business, plugging itself back to its base station if it runs out of juice, to finish the job later.

I don’t know what to do.

Our auto industry is changing rapidly. And by 2035 there will be a ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars. Has anyone said anything about garden equipment there? Will I still be able to lob down to my local Shell and grab a five-litre jerry can of petrol?

Is a four-stroke lawn mower soon to be a relic of the past? But am I ready to forego the joy of mowing a lawn to the hands-off approach of a robot doing it for me? I could sit back and sink a “tinny” watching my “outdoor Roomba” go about its business.

Or is it cordless, loading up on battery packs like I load up on AA and AAA batteries at Christmas time for all of my son’s presents?

Thirty-five years is hard to argue with

You would think my instinct is to go straight at the robot. And it was, at first. But then I remembered the longevity and the joy that a petrol-powered mower brings.

My dad had an old Victa VC160 2-stroke mower with a wind-up crank start. It was an early 70s-made mower. And he had that thing, that was still working, well into my 20s. It was a mower that survived at least 35 years.

The smell of the engine and fuel, the grass. The sweaty work of pushing a mower up and down and around a lawn on a sunny day. There’s something to be said for the manual labour of something as simple as cutting grass. The idea that even in a hyperconnected, high-tech world where robotics creeps into everyday life, there are still some things I can do for myself.

But the mere fact that you can jump on to and buy a robot lawnmower is quite a sign of the world we’re in and the direction we’re heading.

Dare I say had I suggested to my Dad in the 80s that when I’m doing my lawn with my kid in the future, we’d be sat down, watching a robot do it, he’d have laughed me all the way back inside… and called me lazy.

Also with my dilemma today, let’s not forget I’m all for new tech, new devices, new technology and changes in how the world works.

But even I’m leaning to the four-stroke mower – there’s something still primitive yet appealing about it.

A lesson perhaps to my son, that there are just some things you should do yourself. And with “technology” that still can be relevant ­– even though it’s fundamentally based on a different era, you don’t always have to default to the high-tech stuff.

Let’s face it, an efficient four-stroke mower isn’t going to rip a new hole in the ozone is it? Or is it?

Now, if I’m having these dilemmas with my mower choice, then maybe others are having their own dilemmas about our future reliance on new energy, robotics and new technology too…

So where do you sit? Do you buy into our new future? Are you all “green”, all-electric, all-robotic? Or do you agree perhaps there are some things that should never die out. That even if this new future arrives as it will, we shouldn’t lose something as satisfying as doing the lawns with a four-stroke petrol mower.

I need your help, what do you think? Petrol, battery or robot? Let me know at [email protected].


Sam Volkering
Editor, Exponential Investor