By Drew Johnson
Monday, Nov 12th, 2012 @ 5:12 pm
 

The Ford SVT Raptor has gained a loyal following in the United States thanks to its powerful engine, bad-boy looks and go-anywhere suspension, but the truck is also building a somewhat unusual fan base in China.

Chinese buyers have long been fans of bold styling and gas guzzling engines, so it should come as no surprise that the Raptor is a popular model there. What's shocking about the Raptor's success in China is that Ford has never sold the truck there.

Thanks to sellers working outside of Ford's dealer network - typically called the "gray market" - Chinese buyers have had access to the Raptor since early 2011. Those trucks don't come cheap, though, with some versions of the truck commanding up to $160,000.

It's hard to determine just how many Raptors have been sold in China, but supplies are on the rise, as reflected by lower prices. Chinese buyers can now purchase a Raptor for as little as $109,000, which is still about $60,000 more than the truck's starting price in the U.S.

With buyers willing to shell out so much for the truck, some have wondered why Ford doesn't just sell the Raptor through its own network. However, overall demand for trucks remains low in China and likely wouldn't be worth Ford's investment to bring the Raptor to market.

"Unlike in the U.S., the pickup is hardly associated with a symbol of lifestyle in China. Instead, it is mostly used for utility purposes (transporting goods)," Lin Huaibin, IHS Automotive China light-vehicle forecast manager, told The Detroit News. "The sales volume of pickups such as the Ford Raptor ... is very small not only because of its high price, but also because of the taste of local consumers who do not see the pickup as a 'car,' per se."

The gray market should remain as a viable option for the foreseeable future, though, as there are no rules dictating what vehicles can be imported into the country. However, all vehicles are subject to taxes and fees, which could tack on 50 percent or more to a vehicle's base price.