Automakers and analysts are predicting a faster return to previous peak sales than previously expected.

After a decidedly strong first quarter in the U.S., it appears may analysts are not only upping their forecasts for 2012 - but for the next few years as well.

It may seem like just yesterday to some, but it was half a decade ago when new car sales were last at their peak of 17 million units, but Automotive News is reporting that many automakers and automotive analysts are revising their forecasts and painting a picture for a fairly hasty return to the heyday numbers.

For now, projections for 2012 appear to be getting a bump from 14 million to 14.5 million by many analysts and automakers alike, up significantly from the 12.8 million total tallied up last year. The latest revisions follow a record-setting first quarter for many automakers, with a pace now believed to be here to stay. In fact, some analysts and automakers are even suggesting that some individual months in 2013 could touch on 16 million annualized rates.

John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America said last week, "We see 16 million in a couple years." Mike Jackson, CEO to AutoNation, said, "We are clearly on the road back to 16 million," adding, "The auto fleet is older, a million new households are forming each year and new and exciting product offerings are coming at a faster pace."

But not everyone is as eager to suggest a return to the "old normal" of 16 million units, such as Paul Taylor, the National Automobile Dealers Association's chief economist, who cautioned that 16 and 17 million annual sales were made possible due to very cheap credit, lots of incentives and an economy riding on the top of a bubble. Taylor cautioned that seeing the run from 2000 through 2007 as "normal" is misplaced, and a return to those numbers will still come but it is not the only sign of a strong auto industry and/or economy.

For now, AN gathered a range of forecasts from nine industry executives and analysts that predicted 14 to 14.8 million for 2012, 14.9 to 15.7 million for 2013, 15.7 to 16.2 in 2014, and 16.2 to 16.5 million in 2015.