Ford is bringing its F-150 pickup to China, the first full-size American pickup to be officially available in the country. But it's not bringing just any F-150: it's bringing the 400-plus horsepower off-road racing F-150 Raptor.
Moving more than a half-million units each year, Ford's best-selling vehicle is the F-150 pickup. But aside from a handful of units that have made their way to China on the grey market (with massive markups that can double or triple the cost of the truck), full-size American pickup trucks haven't been offered in China until now. So why would Ford start with the Raptor, which will start north of $50,000 in the US (and perhaps at least 50 percent higher in China thanks to import taxes) rather than one of the cheaper, entry-level trucks?
Thanks largely to a burgeoning economy in the last decade, China has developed a taste for premium vehicles and American products. The Raptor is both. "Raptor, while not being a 'premium' brand, it's a high-end truck," says Karl Brauer, automotive industry analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "I can only imagine the reaction that it gets in China. A big, imposing looking truck that happens to back it up with real ability over any kind of road or non-road surface."
It's likely that Ford intends to use the Raptor, maybe the most quintessentially American vehicle the company sells, as a halo car in China. They can advertise it heavily and bring a new kind of attitude to the brand. If it sells in any sort of volume, it could be a good testbed for whether more standard F-150 pickup trucks might sell in the country.
"They don't just send a truck. They send the truck," says Brauer. "The most aggressive and powerful of their global sales leader. That's their beachhead for truck sales in China." It doesn’t seem like even Ford knows how popular the F-150 Raptor will be, but either way, it'll definitely make a splash at the Beijing Auto Show when it's unveiled this weekend.