DETROIT — Just five years ago, U.S. vehicle sales were split evenly between cars and light trucks.
Through the first five months of 2018, however, light trucks, SUVs and crossovers outsold traditional passenger cars by a ratio of more than 2-to-1, and there's no sign that cars will rebound anytime soon.
"Exactly where the floor is, we're still sorting it out," Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst with IHS Markit, said.
Facing this new reality, auto makers have adjusted their strategies — and there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Some are killing cars while others see opportunity in selling them. Still others with car-heavy sales mixes are playing catch-up in bringing more light trucks to market.
In its annual "Car Wars" report, Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecasts that 71 percent of vehicle introductions in the 2019-22 model years will be light trucks.
"There's definitely further growth ahead," Jeff Schuster, president of LMC Automotive's Americas operation, said of pickups, SUVs and crossovers. He said trucks could account for 75 to 80 percent of U.S. light-vehicle sales by 2025.
Auto makers are on pace to sell about 5.3 million cars this year, which would be the fewest since 1958. Trade-in data from Edmunds.com Inc. show the number of buyers who replaced a car with another car fell to 53 percent in the first five months of this year, vs. 68 percent in 2014.
"With so many consumers taking advantage of low fuel costs to test out larger SUVs and trucks — which benefit from significantly better fuel economy than their predecessors — it will be harder and harder to convince anyone who has made a recent truck or SUV purchase that reverting back to a car would make any sense," Ivan Drury, Edmunds senior manager of industry analysis, said.
Auto makers' wide spectrum of strategic decisions have seen varying levels of success.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was among the first auto makers to make a notable portfolio change when in 2016 it killed the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart sedans. Assembly lines used for both models have been turned into extra capacity for SUVs and pickups.
Nearly two years later, only 10 percent of FCA's U.S. sales are cars. Among the 15 largest auto makers, that's second only to Jaguar Land Rover, whose car mix fell to 10 percent so far this year from 25 percent in 2013.
Cars accounted for just 30 percent of U.S. production in 2017, down from 38 percent in 2014, according to IHS Markit.
Some auto makers were better prepared than others for the shift from cars.
Subaru of America has been cashing in on the crossover craze to the point where it is on track for a 10th consecutive year of record U.S. sales in 2018.
Part of the once-niche automaker's success: Two of its most recognizable nameplates, the Outback and Forester, were pioneers in the crossover segment in the mid-1990s.
Through May, the brand's car lineup — the Impreza sedan and hatchback, Legacy, BRZ and WRX — has made up 24 percent of its U.S. sales, down from 58 percent in 2013, meaning Subaru is among the auto makers with the biggest shift to light trucks.
At the same time, Subaru's total sales grew 53 percent from 2013 to 2017, even though its car volume has declined.
Crossovers have become such a huge part of its business that it sold more of them in January through May of this year than it did in all of 2013.
Despite that crossover growth, Subaru says it remains committed to sedans.
"We're not abandoning these segments, for sure," Subaru of America CEO Tom Doll said in May. "We still sell some nice volume in that segment, but given the change in the market dynamics, moving from sedans into these smaller SUVs and midsize SUVs, it's a market trend."
Not every auto maker has had the benefit of a crossover-laden lineup like Subaru's.
At Hyundai-Kia, 59 percent of its U.S. sales this year through May were cars. While that's down from 78 percent five years ago, it's the highest percentage among the 15 largest auto makers.
Hyundai-Kia's product plans call for a significant shift as it tries to play catch-up with rivals. Hyundai plans to introduce eight new or redesigned crossovers in the U.S. by 2020 to a lineup that has had redesigns and freshenings of its cars.
Luxury brands, historically known for their stylish sedans, also are filling dealer lots with more light trucks as quickly as possible.
BMW Group — the only sizable auto maker besides Hyundai-Kia still selling more cars than trucks — and Daimler A.G. are adding numerous nameplates to their crossover and SUV lineups.
LMC's Mr. Schuster said luxury brands were late to the crossover craze "but are now coming in full force, with the Germans leading the way in fragmentation."
Michael Wayland, Automotive News, contributed to this report.