China is pickup country? Ford says yes!

Ford F-Series trucks loaded onto a transport chip destined for the China market.
Source: Ford

The Ford F-Series, which has been the best selling vehicle in the U.S. for 33 straight years, is looking to conquer a new market — China.

Ford has begun shipping the F-150 Raptor to dealers in China, who will soon offer the pickup to buyers in the communist country.

"F-150 Raptor's appeal and unmatched off-road performance has earned the truck a loyal following around the globe," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president, The Americas. "Export to China enables us to bring a new group of enthusiasts into the Ford family."

The move comes as the automaker faces pressure from President Donald Trump to manufacture more vehicles in the U.S. and hire more Americans.

Will exporting the F-150 Raptor to China move the needle and lead to more jobs at the Dearborn Assembly Plant where it's built? No.

Still, Ford is committed to enhancing its reputation with buyers in China where it sold more than 1.25 million vehicles last year.

"Sales of the F-Series Raptor will be fairly limited in China, but the significance is not the overall volumes," said James Chao, a consultant with IHS Automotive based in China. "As a halo vehicle, the Raptor can start to shape the image of Ford in China as an aggressive, even macho type of brand."

While China may be the world's largest auto market, it is far from becoming a pickup hotbed. In fact, pickups make up just about 1.5 percent of the country's auto sales.

That's primarily because the booming markets for autos in China have been cities where pickup trucks are not practical due to congestion. In addition, many metropolitan areas in China forbid the sale of pickups as they wrestle with how to cut pollution levels.

Finally, pickup trucks are primarily manufactured in North America, which means they carry a 25 percent tariff when imported into China to be sold.

Ford won't say how many F-150 Raptors it expects to sell in China, but there are large areas of "inner China," away from urban centers, where a sportier version of pickup truck could attract buyers.

General Motors and Jeep will be watching how the Raptor does in China since both company's may consider expending their pickup truck sales to that country.