SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) � The stock market is off to a good start this year. So are car sales, which are looking to rack up their best January since 2008.
The auto industry rolls out its latest monthly sales numbers on Friday. The analysts are predicting U.S. vehicle and light truck sales will come in about 15% higher than in January 2012. That would put sales on track for a seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, of 15.3 million new vehicles.
If the predictions hold up, it would be the best January in five years, further evidence that the industry is back on its feet after the brutal beating it took during the financial crisis.Click to Play The Super Bowl indicator
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�Auto makers are kicking off the year strong, staying true to disciplined incentive spending as many curtailed their spending in January as the current lineup of products speak for themselves,� said Kirsten Andersson, an analyst at TrueCar.com.
Other factors helping the industry include the stock market�s strongest January since 1989. Read about the stock market's early jump on 2013
So what might be tapping the brakes? Unemployment, which continues to creep lower but is still high at 7.8%.
Consumer confidence is also a little shaky. The Conference Board reported this week consumer confidence fell to 58.6, its lowest level since November 2011, following expiration of the payroll tax cut.
But those concerns seem for the time to be left outside car dealers� doors.
Edmunds.com analysts are predicting 1,045,587 vehicles were sold In January. That�s up 14.5% from a year ago but down 22.8% from December, which is typically a better month anyway thanks to holiday sales and year-end clearances.
Another thing missing in his January: Hurricane Sandy replacement sales. Most folks who lost cars in the storm have already bought a new ones.
TrueCar takes a slightly more optimistic view than Edmunds.com, estimating overall sales in January, including fleet sales, will reach 1,050,938 units, up 15.1% from a year earlier.
/quotes/zigman/264304/quotes/nls/f F 12.95, +0.02, +0.15% Ford Motor Co.
Among the top-selling brands, TrueCar sees the biggest year-on-year gain being made by Volkswagen XE:VOW DE:VOW3 , up 26.5%, Honda HMC , up 21.1%, and Toyota Motor Corp. TM , up 19.7%.
Edmunds.com adds Ford Motor Co. F to the list of biggest percentage gainers, predicting a 20.6% sales gain for the company compared with a year ago.
The biggest seller in terms of units remains General Motors Co. GM , with TrueCar and Edmunds.com looking for sales of 191,000 to 195,000, about 15% more than GM sold in January 2012.