Is it a sport utility vehicle, or a sport activity vehicle, an all activity vehicle or simply a crossover?

Rampant cross breeding by the auto industry, of which examples abound at this year's North American International Auto Show, can create mind-bending confusion. The automakers' remedy is simple: create a new category or stretch the boundaries of an existing one.

Just one example of vehicular identity crisis is Honda Motor Corp.'s new Pilot. It is built on the platform of its upscale cousin, the Acura MDX, a sport utility vehicle, and it's being promoted as an SUV.

But the Pilot has the vague look of a modern station wagon and the feel of a minivan, with a place in its console for stashing a purse.

Then there's the Pacifica, which most resembles a station wagon.

But don't dare use that word around the touchy designers at the Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler AG. They point to its power and ruggedness, like those of a small SUV, and creature comforts similar to an upscale touring sedan. With no easy pigeonhole for the Pacifica, the Chrysler folks invented a new one: sports tourer.

The Pacifica will arrive in showrooms in 2003 as a 2004 model. The version on display at the auto show will be a concept version.

The auto show opens Sunday with media previews, followed Wednesday by industry previews, and will open to the public next Saturday.

General Motors Corp. will unveil the production version of the Chevrolet SSR, which was displayed as a concept vehicle two years ago. It, too, is a potluck dinner on wheels, both a convertible roadster and a pickup truck, a sort of uptown El Camino.

GM's Saab unit is getting into the multiplicity game, too, with the 9-3X concept vehicle. The all-wheel-drive 9-3X is Saab's first attempt at a vehicle that can safely venture off the asphalt.

Just as Chrysler wrestled with an appropriate segment for its Pacifica, Saab has decided to create another original category for the 9-3x: the crossover coupe.

Fellow Swedish automaker Volvo, a unit of Ford Motor Co., will display the XC90, which will be equipped with all-wheel drive and a five- or six-cylinder turbocharged engine.

It is based on a car platform but will have the stance of an SUV, and Volvo decided to make life relatively simple: They're calling it an SUV.

A few vehicles making their first public appearances have simply undergone a bit of nip and tuck, namely the latest versions of the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Town Car.

Ford wanted to keep the details under wraps until the official introductions during media preview days. But it can be said that both vehicles will look like they've emerged from a week at a spa, feeling all new and refreshed, inside and out, something each sorely needed.

When the auto show opens to the public Saturday, people will get their first look at the Hummer H2 SUV, which is smaller and a little more civilized than the H1 but still a formidable road presence.

The production version of the Mazda RX-8 also is making its debut, a year after being introduced as a concept vehicle.

The four-door sports car is powered by a new generation rotary engine. It's expected to be in showrooms in early 2003.

Another sports car that went from concept to reality is the Cadillac XLR. Known as the Evoq when it was on the drawing board, the XLR features a retractable hardtop and the first use of a high-output, 4.65-liter Northstar engine in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle.

For only the third time in its 31-year history, there's a new version of the Land Rover Range Rover. The pricey SUV has been redesigned inside and out, including a leather trimmed instrument panel and a 4.4-liter V8 engine.

What used to be called ``retro'' is now defined as ``heritage'' by the automakers -- using early brands and models as templates for modern vehicles.

The one heritage vehicle stirring up pre-show buzz was the Chevrolet Bel Air concept car, a throwback to the brand's 1950's heyday coupled with contemporary features.

The Bel Air has a simple, elegant passenger compartment with a 1950's era steering column-mounted gearshift and bench seats, but under the hood is a very modern Vortec 3500 turbocharged, five-cylinder concept engine.

The Jeep Willys2 concept vehicle blends modern design while retaining suggestions of its World War II ancestry, the Willys MB. First shown in Tokyo, it is making its North American debut in Detroit.

Exactly how many concept vehicles reach production is hard to say, but there is definitely a trend toward more of them, according to Chuck Fortinberry, president of the Detroit Autodealers Association, which organizes the show.

``In the last six or eight years it's increased because the automakers are trying to build concept vehicles that have a more direct link to what consumers are seeing in the future,'' said Fortinberry.

The automakers will closely watch the reactions of the public and the journalists covering the show.

``That way they can really tell whether they're on to something,'' Fortinberry said.