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Shell backing visionary truck designer’s plans to shatter existing MPG records


Concept drawing of Starship tractor and trailer joined together as a single integrated unit

Concept drawing of Starship tractor and trailer joined together as a single integrated unit

LOUISVILLE, Ky — Looking to go where no one has gone before on fuel economy gains – and gain insights into the impact on fluid performance in the process – Shell Lubricants is partnering with a pioneering truck designer to develop a new hyper-fuel mileage Class 8 tractor trailer.

Shell Lubricants is providing the financial support to allow Bob Sliwa, owner of Airflow Truck Company, to bring his next generation concept truck design, nicknamed the Starship, to life, Dave Waterman, NA marketing manager for Shell Rotella announced at a special event at MATS tonight.

Waterman explained that as industry and societal requirements evolve in terms of fuel efficiency expectations, and governments respond with higher standads, Shell wants to ensure it plays a role in future innovations, although it has no plans to profit from the new truck design itself.

“This just a great opportunity to help an industry innovator…The ultimate vision was very intruiging…Where he is going is not that safe space we are all used to,” Waterman said.

Initial designs call for the Starship tractor and trailer to join together into a single integrated unit as a way to address aerodynamic drag and loss of efficiency resulting from the gap between the tractor and trailer. The tractor and trailer will also have newly designed side skirts, hood, front end and custom interior. The tractor to trailer aerodynamics gap sealer and the trailer sideskirts will all retract below 35 mph or when coming up on obstructions such as a railway crossing.

As a former race car driver, Sliwa’s passion for pushing the fuel efficiency envelope on truck design dates back more than three decades when he built one of the very first highly aerodynamic and fuel efficient Class 8 trucks in the world in 1983. The truck included an aerodynamic hood and side fairings long before they became commonplace in the industry. That truck averaged 10.54 mpg, Sliwa said.

Through the Great Recession he worked on a truck design that would push the limits of fuel efficiency even further. His Airflow BulletTruck, built in 2012, and driven coast to coast at 65,000 lbs GVW, averaged 13.4 mpg.

Sliwa is confident he can go further still with his next design, which he hopes to start testing on regional runs in the 3rd quarter of 2016 with cross country testing completed in 2017. As Waterman colorfully added this truck will be no “trailer queen”, referring to concept vehicles which travel on trailers from show to show but are never driven in real world situations.

The Shell Lubricants team will provide technical consultation on engine and drivetrain components and recommendations for lubricant needs for use in the Starship truck.


Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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2 Comments » for Shell backing visionary truck designer’s plans to shatter existing MPG records
  1. Ray Fennig says:

    Your all assuming everyone pulls Vans that Unit won’t work in the Flat Deck or Specialized Industry the cab is way to high and even though has very good slop will still push more wind than a lower cab when you have a load that is only 8 Feet High off the ground including the trailer the cab will be 5 feet higher than the load something to think about

  2. Ernie Luke says:

    If you jack knife this unit there will not be much left to recover tk u

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