By Drew Johnson
Thursday, May 10th, 2012 @ 11:22 am
 
A hot start to 2012 could culminate in the auto industry's best annual sales in five years. Industry experts forecast the market to continue its blistering first quarter sales pace, which would net about 14.3 million sales for the year.

The first quarter finished with an annualized sales rate of 14.3 million units, matching the yearly estimates of 14 analysts compiled by Bloomberg. Not only would that tally be the best on record since 16.1 million vehicles were sold in 2007, but it would also mark the third straight year of double-digit sales gains.

"Even if we stay where we are, it's a pretty good year," said Brian Johnson, an industry analyst at Barclays Capital.

The rebounding market is being credited to loosening credit markets, an improving economy and pent-up demand. As a result, first quarter sales were humming along at pre-crash levels.

Through the first four months of the year U.S. auto sales have increased 10.3 percent, matching the same growth seen during the same period in 2011.