Retail sales of new light vehicles are expected to come in at 931,100 vehicles for February, which represents a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 12.1 million units, according to data tracked by J.D. Power and Associates and consulting firm LMC Automotive – a decline from the robust 13.1 million SAAR in January, but stronger than the 11.7 million SAAR achieved in February last year.

"All signs of the industry's health are positive right now," noted John Humphrey, senior VP for J.D. Power’s global automotive practice. "Average transaction prices are nearly $1,000 more in February than the same period in 2012, incentives have remained relatively flat year over year, and newly redesigned models continue to make an impact on the marketplace."

Total light-vehicle sales in February 2013 are projected to exceed 1.17 million units this month, which is a 7% increase from the same month last year and the fourth consecutive month with the selling rate at or above 15.2 million units. Fleet share is expected to remain at the January level of 21%, the firms noted.

As a result of February’s sales numbers, J.D. power and LMC said the light vehicle outlook for 2013 continues to improve, as the selling pace remains robust. In fact, LMC Automotive is increasing its 2013 U.S. forecast for total light-vehicle sales to 15.3 million units from 15.1 million units. The increase is split between fleet and retail light-vehicle sales, with the outlook for retail increasing to 12.5 million units from 12.4 million units, noted Jeff Schuster, LMC’s senior VP-forecasting.

"The current fundamentals that are driving strong vehicle sales—pent-up vehicle demand and a stable, recovering economy—are expected to get a boost by additional positive factors this year," he added. "An expected recovery in the housing market, and 50% more new-model launches combined with an increase in lease maturities should keep light-vehicle sales climbing throughout the year."

Schuster also pointed out that LMC’s forecast for North American production remains at 15.9 million units for 2013, a 3% increase from 2012. "The current inventory situation and production plan for 2013 suggests that there is enough volume to support the expected increased level of demand, and there remains little risk for an overbuild environment," he said.

North American light-vehicle production in January finished at more than 1.3 million units, 7% higher than the same month last year, with production in Mexico up by nearly 21% from January 2012 on higher General Motors, Ford, and Volkswagen volumes related to new model launches. U.S. vehicle production has grown by 9% from January 2012, while Canadian production has declined by 13% during the same period, LMC said.