Starship: the demonstration that teamwork pays off

Shell and the Airflow Truck Company have teamed up to design and build Starship, a futuristic, hyper-aerodynamic, super fuel-efficient heavy-duty concept truck. Starship is a Class 8 truck in the American classification system, and it puts together some of the most innovative existing technologies. The goal is to test the limits of energy efficiency for road transports.

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.


Bob Mainwaring, Shell Lubricants Technology Manager for Innovation, commented on the project. «We seek projects such as the Starship initiative to keep Shell at the leading edge of technology development and energy efficiency. Working with Airflow Truck Company and other suppliers gives Shell Lubricants the opportunity to align with innovative companies to explore what is really possible in fuel efficiency». The Starship initiative is, therefore, a bright example of how co-engineering and co-designing strategies allow achieving results not obtainable working alone.


The bespoke design of the cab is hyper-aerodynamic. Carbon fiber is the only material used to build it. Active grille shutters represent another feature that increases aerodynamics and efficiency. When they are open, they let the air flow through the radiator and into the engine compartment. Consequently, this cools down. Otherwise, the shutters remain closed, and the air is free to reroute around the vehicle. This results in less aerodynamic drag and in lower fuel consumption. Moreover, the engine benefits from the active shutters with reduced cold-weather warm-up time. Also the boat-design of the tail helps reducing the drag.


Automatic tire inflation system increases efficiency ensuring consistent pressure for optimal fuel economy. Another feature that increases efficiency is the down speed axle configuration. This uses advanced engine controls and automated manual transmission to provide improved efficiency and good pulling power.

Solar power also comes to help efficiency optimization. A 5-kilowatt solar array on the trailer roof charges the main 48-volt battery bank on the tractor. The battery bank provides the cab with energy for air conditioning and inverter for the 120-volt hotel loads. In the down-converted 12 volts configuration the battery powers lights, wipers, blower motors, gauges, and other electrical components.

Hybridization is also a key feature. An electric motor and the axle replace the rear tractor non-driven axle. Thanks to this, an extra power boost is available when fuel consumption reaches the peak. Regenerative braking provides the battery with extra energy.

Starship and Shell’s know-how

Shell’s proven expertize translates into technical consultation on both the engine and drivetrain components. Of course, the company guarantees recommendations for lubricant needs. Shell provides the truck with next generation, low viscosity, fully synthetic heavy-duty engine oil. Fully synthetic base oils and advanced additive technology ensure protection against wear, deposits and oil breakdown. Lower viscosity means superior fuel economy, if compared to a conventional SAE 15W-40. Starship uses full synthetic Shell Lubricants which include Spirax S6 GXME 75W-80 transmission oil, Spirax S5 ADE 75W-85 differential oil and Spirax S6 GME 40 wheel hub oil. In conclusion, talking about the engine, Starship truck is equipped with a 6-cylinder Cummins X15, capable of providing 292.4 kW, with a torque of 2,508 Nm.

X15 is the name of Stage V updated version of QSX15 (for industrial engines) and ISX15 (for onroad ones).


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