The name on the truck, Hombre, sounds so macho you figure it must spit testosterone out the tail pipe.

As compact pickups go, it looks the part -- 15-inch chrome wheels, metallic paint, graphic stripes, an extended cab, a 175-horsepower V-6 under the hood.

In large letters it says "Isuzu," the Japanese builder of sport utility vehicles such as the Rodeo and Trooper.

But there is something wrong with this picture.

The Hombre is an undeniably attractive, able-looking vehicle. But it doesn't look like an Isuzu.

That's because it isn't. It's a Chevrolet S10, another example of how few global barriers exist in the automotive industry.

Unwilling -- or unable -- to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to design and build its own compact pickup, Isuzu went shopping for an alternative. It contracts to buy U.S.-built S10 pickups from Chevrolet, which outfits them with the Hombre and Isuzu names.

Strategy's not unique

Isuzu is not alone in following that strategy: Mazda's B4000 pickup is a renamed Ford Ranger. Mazda also bought two-door Ford Explorers and offered them as Navajos. Chevrolet buys Suzukis and sells them under its Geo label.

And Isuzu sells its Rodeo and Trooper to Honda and its upscale Acura division, where they are renamed the Honda Passport and the Acura SLX.

Confusing, isn't it?

It's actually a trend that was started more than two decades ago by Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler.

Faced with strong competition by small pickups from Toyota and Nissan (then Datsun), the Big Three in Detroit hedged their bets in case this was a passing fad.

They each went to a Japanese manufacturer, bought small trucks and had them renamed for the U.S. market.

Ford offered the Courier, which came from Mazda, a company in which Ford held a stake. Chevrolet had the LUV, or Light Utility Vehicle, which was built by Isuzu, a company owned in part by General Motors. Chrysler brought in the Dodge D50, which was built by Mitsubishi, a company with which Chrysler eventually did joint manufacturing.

Small trucks, big business

By the 1980s, Detroit had caught on that small pickups were big business, so they phased out the imports and built their own trucks.

What has also changed since then is that when Ford, Chevy and Dodge offered Japanese-built trucks, Mazda, Isuzu and Mitsubishi were not big players in the U.S. market.

Now, Ford and Mazda and Chevrolet and Isuzu are selling trucks that compete directly in most U.S. cities.

Apparently, there are enough sales to keep everyone afloat, although the number of trucks sold by Isuzu and Mazda is minuscule when compared to Ford and Chevy.

So is there any advantage in driving an Isuzu Hombre over its identical twin from Chevrolet?

Aside from the relative rarity of the Hombre over the S10, there is no difference whatsoever.

The Isuzu Hombre XS Spacecab is an S10 Extended cab in all respects.

It is a two-wheel-drive setup that has a four-speed automatic transmission. Power comes from Chevy's 4.2-liter Vortec engine, which produces 175 horses.

Pure Chevrolet inside

The interior also is pure Chevy, except for the Isuzu logo imprinted on the steering wheel air bag cover. There is a split bench seat in the front and two side-mounted, flip-down jump seats in the rear extended cab area.

One annoyance common to both the Chevy and Isuzu: The radio has just four push-button positions. My repertoire of favorite stations runs to six, so in the Isuzu I had to dump two.

Also, there is just a single, driver-side air bag.

The six-foot cargo box is rated at 1,154 pounds, and the trailer-towing capacity is listed at 6,000 pounds.

Base price is $16,413, and with all the favorite options, including power windows and door locks, the sticker rises to $18,749.

On the road, the Isuzu is a powerful little truck, thanks to the V-6.

No wimpy ride here. The ride is hardly smooth. It tends to suffer from pickup "bounce" when there is nothing in the cargo bed -- which is most of the time for these small trucks. But most buyers probably like that road feel, since it reminds them they aren't driving a wimpy car.

In fact, there is nothing wimpy about the Hombre, especially its name.

And that may be the biggest reason to get a Chevy at an Isuzu dealer.

When someone asks you what you drive, you can stand tall and growl "Hombre!" And that sounds a darn sight tougher than "S10."

SPECS
Base list price: $16,413.
Price as tested: $18,749.
Major options on test car: Air conditioning, $835; Power Package, $630.
Engine: 4.3-liter six.
Horsepower: 175.
Transmission: Four-speed automatic.
Weight: 3,346 pounds.
Payload capacity: 1,154 pounds.
Mileage: 17-23 mpg.
Safety: Driver front air bag, anti-lock brakes.
Competition: Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Pickup, Mazda B-Series.