The Toyota Fortuner is South Africa's most popular SUV by a significant margin. Since its debut in 2006, it has been an enormous success.
Without any rivals that risk conquering sales from it, Fortuner is a rich source of profit for South African Toyota dealers. The Fortuner range has been slightly altered for 2020, and although the new Epic and Epic Black trim packages were the marketing newsworthiness of its upgrade, something else was of a great deal more important.
As part of its 2020 Fortuner range revision, Toyota has made two noteworthy mechanical changes by deleting all manual gearbox and petrol engine options. That's quite a radical decision to make, especially applied to a vehicle of Fortuner's commercial success.
So why did Toyota decide that South African Fortuner owners could do without a 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine or manual gearbox option?
Not everyone lives in the Kalahari
The question around Fortuner's V6 engine is perhaps the easiest to answer. Hilux and Fortuner retained the 4.0-litre V6 engine option going into 2020, being the last vehicles in their class to offer petrol power.
Ford has never offered a powerful six-cylinder petrol engine with T6-series Ranger or Everest. Isuzu doesn't have a V6-powered D-Max or MU-X. True, there was a time when you could buy a Ranger bakkie with 4.0-litre V6 power and Isuzu's KB offered a 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine, but those days are now a distant memory.
Naturally-aspirated V6 petrol engines offer two advantages in an SUV such as Fortuner. Dedicated boat, horsebox and caravan towing people believe that a big V6 petrol engine is superior to any turbodiesel when towing. You can show them all the torque graphs you like, but this perception is what kept a small group of towing fanatics ordering Fortuner V6s.
The more tangible advantage of a 4-litre V6 petrol engine for Fortuner, regards sand and dune driving. Linear power graphs deliver a very real advantage with technical sand driving.
Unlike a turbodiesel, which produces its power across a much narrower engine speed range, you can keep a 4.0-litre V6 Fortuner in one gear when attempting a dune. And as anyone who has driven in the Kalahari or Namibia knows, it only takes that momentary gear-shift action, to get stuck.
The market for committed dune driving Fortuner customers is relatively small, and those numbers just can't justify the V6's presence anymore.
Traffic is a real issue
Fortuner now only offers a six-speed automatic gearbox option. And this makes absolute sense. The only reason to have a manual gearbox would be for extreme technical descending, where the engine's compression braking can best be harnessed with a manual gearbox.
Toyota's Fortuner has hill-descent assist, which does a stellar job of using the vehicle's ABS to crawl down challenging off-road trails. In all other aspects of driving, the simple truth is that an automatic gearbox is superior to a manual.
This is especially true for most Fortuner drivers and their daily driving cycle, which is urban commuting. Having to shift a long-throw gear lever and operate the clutch in traffic is annoying. Toyota's decision to discontinue the manual gearbox option is something which undoubtedly sourced from a shortage of demand.
Hardcore dune explorers will no doubt pine for the 4-litre V6 engine option, paired to a six-speed manual gearbox. But the numbers have just become too low for Toyota to justify the build priority and parts inventory for that mechanical specification in South Africa.