The new Toyota Fortuner is forging new paths

The refreshed Toyota Fortuner meets South African theoretical physicist, technologist and advocate for off-world exploration, Dr Adriana Marais.

Photographs: Ryan Abbott

From off-road to out-of-this-world — this is the concept chosen by Toyota to reimagine the “luxury of freedom” slogan for its undisputed leader in the local SUV market, the Fortuner.

Since the Toyota Fortuner was introduced here in 2005, the seven-seat sport utility vehicle has been the undisputed leader in the local SUV market for nearly two decades. With its near-perfect combination of style, off-road prowess and value for money it still maintains average sales of more than 800 units per month and a market share of over 40%.

SA’s SUV of choice

Having earned its title as South Africa’s SUV of choice, Toyota has recently launched a refreshed model flaunting a dramatic and sleek, catamaran-inspired front fascia, sharply angular bumpers and newly styled 18-inch alloy wheels, with black and maroon detailed leather seats and next-gen advanced active safety upgrades on mid- and high-grade models.

With the introduction of the latest model, sporting new LED headlights, L-shaped LED daytime running lamps and apron-framing LED indicator lamps (now with sequential functionality on the 2.8 models), additional USB points for rear passengers and a revised instrument cluster with new graphics, Toyota and its advertising agency, FCB Joburg, identified an opportunity for evolution in terms of how the Fortuner is perceived in the market.


Going “beyond”

To separate it from the rest, the Fortuner had to go further, had to go “beyond”, so a TV commercial was created depicting a fantasy scenario involving a child imagining the Fortuner on a new planet, with the tag line: “Reimagine the luxury of freedom.”

“What better way to distinguish the Fortuner from other SUVs than by going from off-road to out-of-this-world?” says Tian van den Heever, Executive Creative Director of FCB Joburg. “Plus, seeing the Fortuner traverse across the diverse landscape of Mars just further emphasises that it’s truly equipped to tackle any terrain,” he adds. (Watch the TV commercial here.)

With this positioning, it just made sense to introduce the latest Fortuner to someone with highly valued expertise in quantum biology and the origins of life, and the founder of a project to demonstrate human resilience and sustainability in the most extreme environments as preparation for life on the moon, Mars and beyond… as well as providing solutions for those living in earth’s harsh conditions.

Off-world exploration

So, we took our “out-of-this-world” top-of-the-line 2.8 GD-6 4×4 VX derivative with auto six-speed transmission and Platinum Pearl White bi-tone exterior to meet theoretical physicist, technologist, and advocate for off-world exploration, Dr Adriana Marais, at the Atlantis Dunes just outside Cape Town.

Casually dressed, the petite Dr Marais was disarmingly pleasant, the antitheses of any preconceived perception or expectation of a highly qualified academic scholar and entrepreneur, yet her steadfast and searching gaze immediately revealed the grit and determination behind her charming disposition.

Her CV is impressive, to say the least, having received numerous accolades for her research, including the 2015 L’Oreal-Unesco International Rising Talent Award and an accolade from the Royal Society of South Africa. In 2020 she was among five global finalists for Women in Tech’s Most Disruptive Woman in Tech Award.

She is a director of the Foundation for Space Development Africa, an organisation aiming to send Africa’s first mission to the Moon, the Africa2Moon Project, and driving projects such as asteroid mining, disaster management projects, and is a member of the South African government advisory task team on the fourth Industrial Revolution.

In 2013 she was shortlisted as one of 100 astronauts for the Mars One Project, a private organisation planning one-way trips to establish the first human settlement on Mars, before it declared bankruptcy in 2019. Besides all this, she’s the founder of Proudly Human, initiating the Off-World Project — a series of habitation experiments in earth’s most extreme environments.

Beyond our planet

Dr Marais’ fascination with the extraterrestrial and space exploration started while she was still at school in KwaZulu-Natal. She firmly believes we are living at a unique point in the history of life on earth, as the unprecedented rate of development in engineering and science is putting the expansion of our society beyond this planet within reach.

In our conversation next to the new Fortuner in the barren dune landscape, her passion for exploration beyond the world and the Off-World projects was palpable. “The allure of the unknown is far more powerful than the comfort of the known,” she says.

Extreme environments

“The aim of the Off-World Project is to run a series of habitation experiments by building communities and off-grid infrastructure in the most extreme environments on the planet — from the desert, to Antarctica, to under the ocean. Each experiment will last several months, generate exploration-driven innovation and research, and be filmed for a documentary series.”

In preparation for this, Dr Marais visited the Antarctic interior and the Oman desert to scout locations for Off-World Project. Through these projects, she says Proudly Human will develop knowledge and technology to support the first human communities living off-world…

“For instance, with average winter temperatures of around -70° Celsius, low pressures at altitudes of over 3,000 metres and isolation more extreme than the International Space Station or the moon, conditions in the Antarctic interior provide a unique research opportunity to prepare for life on Mars,” she says.

So, by tapping into resources such as wind, ice, and even the cold, we can test life-support technologies for energy provision, habitat control systems, water management, precision farming, manufacturing, transportation, safety, and medical infrastructures.

“At the same time, the dynamics of the community itself will be investigated to better understand wellbeing and community spirit in an isolated, extreme and resource-constrained environment, The same goes for the hot, dry regions in Africa and the Middle East.

“Unlike here,” she says, gesturing to the surrounding white sand dunes, “But much like on Mars, there are locations where the sand has a distinctive rust colour from the iron oxide content. And like Mars, management of life’s most precious resource, water, will be critical to survival.

“However, in contrast to Antarctica, there are communities living there who have mastered surviving the harsh conditions, So, our aim is to have a community in one of the most water-scarce locations on earth, building infrastructure from scratch, ultimately to thrive off grid…”

Not unexpectedly, tough Toyota vehicles, including the indomitable Hilux on which the Fortuner is based, have been instrumental in getting Dr Marais to extremely remote places and arduous terrain during her exploratory trips to Oman, Antarctica, and more recently, Namibia.

So, sharing its mechanical components and four-wheel drive DNA from the Hilux, the latest Fortuner has proven to be decidedly at home in any alien environment whether it be Mars, Namibia, or the dunes at Atlantis…

For more information on Dr Adriana Marais and #ProudlyHuman, visit their website

Desert Highway

A road trip through Namibia is one of the best ways to explore the land of endless horizons. From dunes to coast, fauna and flora, cities to ghost towns, and an abundance of vast spaces, there is so much to see.