Cities are central to a growing transport challenge. By mid-century, as many as three-quarters of the world's population could live in cities and the number of vehicles on our roads might double. In recent decades energy use in the transport sector has increased substantially.

With such huge demand for mobility, particularly in fast growing cities, the question is how can we reduce energy use and address CO2 emissions that impact climate change?

That's the challenge that lubricants experts from Shell, world class car designers Gordon Murray Design and engine experts Geo Technology have been considering over the past few years.

Shell concept car

The result of their collaboration has been revealed in Beijing, China. It's a lightweight, three-seat concept car designed with the kind of attention to performance, weight reduction and aerodynamics that goes into a Formula One racing car. The Shell Concept Car demonstrates an affordable way to keep our increasingly crowded cities moving while reducing energy use and emissions.

"You could build the Shell Concept Car and drive it 100,000 kilometres before consuming the same energy it takes to build an SUV which hasn't yet left the showroom," says engineer Bob Mainwaring, Shell's Technology Manager for Innovation who is leading the project.

Watch the exclusive launch video of the Shell Concept Car
Key Concept Car Facts

Bespoke engine and lubricant design

The success of the venture - known as Project M - was down to collaboration. Shell and its partners designed and built the car ensuring that the car, engine and lubricant would work together optimally. The car uses a bespoke lubricant which draws on the same kind of technology used in Shell's Helix Ultra with PurePlus Technology. The bespoke lubricant, not commercially available, delivered improved engine performance. On the cold portion of the European Driving Cycle, the Shell lubricants reduced CO2 emissions by 7.1% and on the combined cycle by 5.0%, when compared to standard lubricants available in the UK, showing the clear value of co-designing engine and fluids.

The bespoke engine oil was made using Shell innovative base oils, made from natural gas, using Gas-to-liquid technology, marketed as Shell PurePlus Technology.

This technology converts natural gas into crystal clear base oil with virtually none of the impurities found in crude oil. To create the finished product, the base oil is enhanced with Shell's unique mix of detergents and dispersants (added for cleanliness); anti-wear additives (to help protect the engine at low viscosities); and antioxidants (to keep the oil fresh).

This next generation mix balances efficiency and durability ensuring a very thin, high performance oil that extends engine life, reduces maintenance costs and oil consumption, while maintaining fuel economy and enabling better cleanliness.

Partner power

"The improvement in economy derived from the collaborative design of engine and lubricant is impressive and highlights the enormous benefits achieved from close relationships between design partners. It also shows the powerful role that lubricants can potentially play in helping achieve CO2 reduction targets"

Mark Gainsborough, EVP Global Commercial

The ultimate city car

The car's body is made with recycled carbon fibre. This helps to reduce its overall weight to 550 kilogrammes on an empty tank, while cutting the energy used in manufacturing by as much 45% compared to similar-sized models.

Formula One fans will recognise the tiny digital cameras that replace wing mirrors, relaying a view of the road to small screens on the dashboard. By removing the mirrors the project team has made the car more streamlined, reducing drag and improving its energy efficiency.

The most significant innovation may also be the least visible: the small 660cc engine in the back. Geo Technology applied an innovative coating to engine components - made with diamond-like carbon - and Shell created a bespoke engine oil, based on technology used in Shell's Helix Ultra with PurePlus lubricant, which was designed to keep it running as smoothly as possible.

"The lower weight and the aerodynamic improvement has been a significant factor in increasing the efficiency. But the engine lubricant collaboration between Shell and Geo Technologies has too," said Matt Brewerton, the lead project design engineer at GMD.

The little car has a top speed of 110 kilometres per hour (km/h) - more than enough for a day trip away from the city -and performs best at 50-70km/h. Sample test results include a steady state consumption of 107 miles per gallon [2.64Litres per 100km] [38km/Litres] [89.1 miles per gallon US] at 70kmph/45mph and an improvement of 4.67g CO2/km on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) from the use of bespoke lubricants, equivalent to a 5% improvement in fuel efficiency compared to standard lubricants available in the UK.

For now, this ultra-light concept car is a unique example of what a combustion engine and manufacturing technology can achieve.

"Our car may be small, but it's packed with potential," Dr. Andrew Hepher, Vice President of Shell's lubricant research team, noted. "We want to accelerate the conversation about how we make road vehicles more energy efficient and less carbon-intensive. In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to sharing our research insights from this project with engine designers, car manufacturers, academics and other experts across the automotive sector."

* Read all about the creation of the Shell concept car

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