A rare naysayer is Honda’s John Mendel, who doesn’t believe CUVs represent an unstoppable force and for years has advised industry watchers to remember 2008 and 2009.

That’s when U.S. fuel prices reached previously unseen highs, with a gallon of regular unleaded reaching a record $4.11 in July 2008.

“I think (the growth in CUVs is) a bigger trend than it was a year ago…but I don’t know how permanent it is,” Mendel, executive vice president-American Honda says. “It was a completely different trend in 2009, when everybody went from crossovers and SUVs back to sedans.”

Many execs concede when you expand the question of whether higher fuel prices could harm sales of light trucks overall, not CUVs specifically, the equation changes. In other words, don’t expect Lexus to have a 76% increase in sales of its LX fullsize SUV, as it did in the first quarter, if regular unleaded soars back to $4 per gallon.

While Honda has the best-selling CUV in the industry in the CR-V, Mendel notes the importance of cars to the automaker’s bottom line.

“Sedans for us still do extremely well. Civic and Accord, we did close to 700,000 units last year,” he says. Indeed, the Civic and Accord sold better for Honda in March than the CR-V and Pilot, both of which were down vs. year-ago.

Nissan isn’t ready to say cars are doomed, either. The brand’s three sedans, Sentra, Altima and Maxima, plus the Versa Note subcompact, available as a sedan or hatchback, racked up nearly 550,000 sales in the U.S. last year.

“While obviously taking advantage of the crossover trend, (Nissan believes we need to) stay very heavily invested to be sure we have a competitive sedan lineup,” says Michael Bunce, vice president-product planning for Nissan North America. “In terms of percentage of sales, 54%-55% of our sales are still sedans (and) the Note, the Sentra and the Altima are still really strong players in their segments and we want to make sure they (stay strong).”

Yes, automakers who sell a lot of sedans want to protect their market share.

Those who don’t? They’re throwing caution to the wind.

In what surely will be a closely watched experiment, FCA U.S. is not renewing its Chrysler 200 midsize sedan and Dodge Dart compact 4-door beyond 2017, after struggling for years to compete effectively in those segments.

“We have decided to de-focus from the manufacturing standpoint on the passenger-car market,” FCA U.S. boss Sergio Marchionne, seeking more capacity for the surging Jeep and Ram brands, said in January.

Partnerships with other automakers for C- and D-cars are being explored, but it’s unclear if they will materialize, or whether FCA will proceed without any traditional C- and D-cars in its lineup if they don’t. – with James M. Amend

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com