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For the first time, Ford Motor Co. will sell an F-150 pickup in China — the tricked-out, off-road Raptor.

The automaker on Friday said it will begin exporting limited numbers of its performance pickup to the world’s largest auto market in 2017, although wealthy Chinese truck enthusiasts have managed to get their hands on the snarling off-roader for years through unsanctioned means. Buyers on the gray market — outside authorized dealer channels — pay up to four times the U.S. sticker price for the F-150’s souped-up sibling.

“There’s money there, and that car’s seen as a very desirable, high-end vehicle,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “Between its dimensions and styling and its actual capabilities... it’s one of those vehicles that can cover so many bases and can do so many things well.”

Enthusiast website CarNewsChina.com says the last time the Raptor was available it sold for $105,000-$160,000 in U.S. currency. When Ford discontinued the Raptor in 2014, it had a starting price of $44,995. Ford plans to start building the truck again at the Dearborn Truck plant, with 2017 models in U.S. showrooms this fall.

Some of those inflated prices paid for the Raptor in China in the past can be attributed to import taxes, but the country’s elite have been willing to pay premium prices for the American truck’s cool, aggressive styling and off-road power and handling. Owning one is “an exceptional way to broadcast your wealth,” Brauer said.

The automaker will build Raptor’s SuperCrew cab configuration in Dearborn for export to China starting next year. Ford has never sold any of its full-size F-Series trucks in China. But it does sell the midsize Yuhu, a variant of the Ranger, through a joint venture.

The Raptor, six inches wider than the F-150, will be powered by a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that will get more than the 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque that the previous model’s 6.2-liter V-8 produced. The engine will be the first Ford vehicle to feature a new 10-speed transmission the automaker jointly developed with General Motors Co.

It also includes Fox racing shocks, performance tires and a chiseled exterior punctuated by a prominent front grille with bold “FORD” lettering.

“That car, before it even moves, has a whole other level of aggressiveness to it that a standard F-150 doesn’t have,” Brauer said.

Just like the F-150 and Super Duty, Ford built the new Raptor with aluminum, which saves up to 500 pounds compared to the previous all-steel model. It does include a fully boxed steel frame, stronger than previous models.

The truck’s Terrain Management System includes six driving modes: normal; street; weather; mud and sand; baja; and rock.

The only difference in the Chinese Raptors are four rooftop marker lamps (two white and two red) and reflectors on the rear bumper that won’t be found stateside.

Pricing and performance capabilities — for the U.S. and China — will be announced closer to production, a Ford spokesman said.

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2401

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