SHANGHAI – Chinese love SUVs large and small. The segment is the fastest-growing in the world’s biggest automotive market. But pickups never have caught on in China, even in with its large rural population.

Foreign automakers think they can change that. Several are beginning pickup sales in China, but their strategies couldn’t be more different. Some are aiming for the top of the market, while others have their eye on a more modestly priced segment.

“Our customers have been telling us there is a market for premium-level pickups,” David Schoch, president-Ford Asia Pacific and chairman and CEO-Ford China, says at the Shanghai auto show.

Ford has begun exporting its 4-door SuperCrew F-150 Raptor model to China.

As the maker of the world’s best-selling pickup, it makes sense that Ford at least would test the waters in China. Results of its market research on pickups in China was so positive, “We decided to bring in the Raptor,” says Schoch.

Ford also plans to introduce the less-luxurious Ford Ranger midsize pickup in 2018. Both will be marketed under the “Built Ford Tough” tagline.

Research shows the Chinese“totally get” the ‟Built Ford Toughˮ concept and the “fantastic heritage” behind it, says Peter Fleet, vice president-marketing, sales, and service for Asia Pacific at Ford.

For marketing purposes, the slogan will be used in English with Mandarin subtitles, says Fleet. “We are not just launching two trucks, we are launching the ‘Built Ford Tough’ brand,” he says. “It is a very interesting opportunity.”

Some 26.5 million light vehicles were sold in China in 2016, according to WardsAuto data. That total included only 350,000 pickups, according to LMC Automotive. Ford is undaunted by those numbers, with Fleet saying, “With a little bit of movement in (the pickup) segment, you can see a lot of money coming in.”

While foreign automakers may see promise in the pickup segment, domestic automakers haven’t had much luck with it.

Great Wall has sold more pickups in China than any automaker. In 2016, it sold 105,621 pickups, accounting for 31% of the market, LMC says.  That was up 6% from 2015, but down nearly 17% from 2013.

There were no pickups at the Great Wall stand at the recent Shanghai show, which was crammed with SUVs.

“Pickups don’t sell well because of the restrictions on where they can be driven,” says a Great Wall employee working the stand.

Until recently, many of China’s cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, prohibited pickups, which are classified as commercial vehicles, from being driven inside the city center.

“We have seen some relaxation of the restrictions,” says Schoch.

Ford is counting on those relaxations to continue.

In any case, the lure of the market is too great. Even if pickup sales accounted for only 1% of China’s market, it still would be the world’s fourth-largest, says Schoch.

“We thought, ‘OK, let’s be pioneers,” he says.

Nissan isn’t concerned about the restrictions. It is aiming for a more rural consumer.

The automaker plans to begin production of a pickup in China this month at its plant in Zhengzhou in north China’s Henan province.

Called the Navara, it will go on sale in China in June, Akihiro Nakanishi, deputy general manager-global product communications at Nissan, tells WardsAuto at the Shanghai show.

“We will go to the suburban areas,” says Nakanishi. “We believe there is a market.”

The target buyer is a male owner of a small business who is not satisfied with the offerings in the commercial-vehicle segment, he says. The Navara, which Nakanishi says will start at RMB139,800 ($20,272), is somewhat upscale and has an accommodating backseat.

“Our pickup looks like a passenger car, so it can be used a family car as well,” he says.

The Ford Raptor doesn’t attract buyers looking for a family car, says Zhang Donghui, import car manager at a Shanghai Xietong Ford dealership in the city’s Pudong district. He says the few he had in stock sold out quickly.

Raptor buyers are men who want to take it off road, Zhang says. And, he adds, they have seen it in movies. Buyers are rich; the Raptor costs RMB548,000 ($79,465).

Zhang doesn’t think demand will be that great. “I think (the Raptor) will remain a niche vehicle,” he says.

Ford has no plans to build the Raptor locally, which is just fine with Zhang: “They have to be imported. Otherwise they will lose their cachet.”