Rotella starship

The Next Innovation

The pursuit of significant fuel economy gains for class 8 trucks and trailers is a challenging process given the size and traditional construction of a tractor and trailer. However, with new fuel economy regulations on the horizon and the need for continuing advances in fuel economy, Shell Lubricants recognizes that a holistic approach to making fuel economy gains is important.

Shell Lubricants and AirFlow Truck Company joined forces to develop a hyper-fuel-efficient Class 8 tractor trailer, the Starship Initiative—and sent it coast-to-coast to see what kind of efficiency improvements could be made to the transporting of goods by road.

Making an Impact

If all trucks in the U.S. reached the overall fuel economy and freight ton efficiency performance of Starship, CO2 emissions from the U.S. truck fleet would be reduced by 60 percent.

What We Did

The Starship Initiative truck completed a test run of more than 2,300 miles across the United States. This journey marked the first time that a prototype Class 8 vehicle of this type with these combined technologies had driven coast-to-coast [Hyperlink to .pdf entitled NSR01124-Starship Journey Map_11in x 8pt5in FO] across America in real-world trucking operations and in real-world conditions including unplanned stops and torrential rains along the way.

The final total truck and cargo weight was close to 73,000 pounds, which is 28 percent heavier than the average total gross vehicle weight of 57,000[1] pounds for a U.S. on-highway Class 8 truck. The payload weighed in at 39,900 pounds, 77 percent more mass than the U.S. average payload of 22,500[2] pounds, and was comprised of clean reef material destined for a new offshore reef installation in Florida.

The Results

Despite far-from-perfect road and weather conditions, the drive itself was a success. Starship attained 178.4 ton-miles per gallon, nearly a 2.5 times improvement over the North America average freight ton efficiency of 72 ton-miles per gallon for trucks.

Freight ton efficiency is a more relevant statistic than miles per gallon for on-road transportation of goods because it combines the weight of the cargo being moved with the amount of fuel consumed.

For the entire journey, which included vastly different road, weather and terrain conditions, the Starship truck’s total average fuel economy was 8.94 miles per gallon, compared to the average U.S. fuel economy for transport trucks at 6.4[3] miles per gallons.  The best fuel economy attained during the drive was 10.2 miles per gallon.

If all trucks in the U.S., 2 million of them, reached the overall fuel economy and freight ton efficiency performance of the Starship initiative truck, they would emit an estimated 229 million less tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year. This would correspond to a huge, 60 percent, reduction in CO2 emissions from the U.S. truck fleet, highlighting the benefit of the enhanced economy and increased loading strategy adopted within the Starship Initiative.

Our Work Isn’t Finished

We are proud of the results of our first test run of the Starship Initiative truck. However, we feel there is more work to be done and the dialogue and the learning must continue. Check back in with us to see where we go from here. Join the conversation with #ShellStarship

H3: Air Flow Starship in the News

Air Flow Starship is making headlines. See what people are saying about the hyper fuel-efficient truck.

[1] EPA NHTSA GHG Rule

[2] North American Council for Freight Efficiency data and reports

[3] North American Council for Freight Efficiency Run on Less Report page 34, https://nacfe.org/run-on-less-report/

About Starship

The Starship Initiative is designed to explore the future of what’s possible in truck design, fuel economy savings and CO2 reduction.

  • Aerodynamics:
    • Bespoke 100% hyper-aerodynamic carbon fiber Cab
    • Active Grill Shutters (active based on temperature to maximize aerodynamics and maximize efficiency)
    • Aerodynamic boat tail for streamlined air flow around truck and drag reduction
  • Efficiency:
    • Hybrid electric axle system for a power boost while climbing grades
    • Custom automatic tire inflation system for consistent tire pressure and optimal fuel economy
    • Downspeed axle configuration provides improved efficiency and pulling power
    • 5000 Watt solar array charges and stores power for normal electrical components
  • Shell Technologies for Starship:

More About Starship  Starship Truck Specifications  Starship Truck Technology

Air Flow Starship in the News

Air Flow Starship is making headlines. See what people are saying about the hyper fuel-efficient truck.

Rotella starship robert silwa

The Team Behind the Truck

Robert Sliwa – Owner – Airflow Truck Company

After six years of regional trucking, Robert ‘Bob’ Sliwa opened his own over-the-road trucking company. After realizing how inefficient long-haul trucks were, (he could only average 4.4 mpg) Bob began modifying his cabover and tweaking one thing at a time until he reached 10 mpg.

He began work on a second super-aerodynamic and hyper fuel-efficient Class 8 rig, the BulletTruck, in 2009. He introduced it to the public and began weekly “real-world” freight hauling runs with it in 2012.

And for the last few years, Bob has been designing and building Starship with a small crew in New Britain, Connecticut. 

Project M - Bob Mainwaring

Bob Mainwairing – Technology and Innovation Manager, Shell Lubricants

Bob is a mechanical engineer and leads Shell’s global automotive engine and lubricant research team for Starship.

Bob leads many co-engineering projects for Shell including the Shell Concept Car, an urban vehicle that uses less energy than other cars available today. The Shell Concept Car sought to explore the role that lightweighting, streamlining and lubrication played in personal transport, much like the Starship Initiative which explores the equivalent for freight transport.

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