ETROIT — A healthier economy and more model introductions should push U.S. auto sales above the 15 million mark this year, predicts an auto industry research firm.
The Polk research firm says auto sales should continue to lead the country’s economic recovery, rising nearly 7 percent over 2012 to 15.3 million new vehicle registrations.
Automakers release December and full-year sales for 2012 today. Analysts think sales reached 14.5 million last year, the strongest performance since 2007 — just before Americans felt the impact of the recession. Sales of more than 15 million are considered a sign of health for the auto industry and the economy, many analysts say.
Polk does not expect pre-recession sales levels of 17 million for several more years, Anthony Pratt, Polk’s forecasting director for the Americas, said Wednesday.
Polk expects 43 new models to be introduced this year, up 50 percent from last year. New models usually boost sales. The company also predicts a rebound in sales of large pickups and midsize cars.
Polk predicted a handful of other trends for 2013. Sales will grow for big pickup trucks, which are very profitable for automakers. Demand has been depressed for five years due to the weak economy, but should get a lift in 2013 thanks to redesigned trucks from GM, Toyota and Ford.