BEIJING (Reuters) - Ford plans to launch its midsize Ranger pickup in China in 2018, hoping to draw more Chinese consumers, who generally prefer sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), towards a new segment of cars.

Ford would import the Ranger to China and currently has no plans to manufacture it locally, a spokeswoman said.

The Chinese government's pilot program to relax policies that restrict pickup trucks from driving in urban areas is a potential boon for Ford, whose F-series pickup truck has been a bestseller in the United States for more than 30 years.

The Ranger is manufactured in South Africa, Argentina, Nigeria and Thailand and is sold in markets outside the United States. However, Ford plans to reintroduce the model, which is smaller than the F-150, the entry-level F-series truck, in the US as a 2019 model alongside the Bronco SUV, and Rangers have been spotted in camouflage on the road in Detroit. How much the US version might differ from the overseas version is unclear.

Last year, Ford announced plans to sell the high-end Raptor version of the F-150 in China, to gauge demand in a relatively undeveloped segment and change the image of the pickup as a low-end workhorse in China. The first Raptor F150s will be delivered to customers on Saturday.

The pickup offerings come as wealthy Chinese motorists look to buy larger cars, with SUVs driving growth in Chinese automobile sales amid weak demand for sedans.

Reporting by Jake Spring

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