SANTA MONICA, Calif. — A sales forecast by indicated that an estimated 13.6 million new cars and trucks will be sold in 2012. The website’s forecast anticipates a solid increase over 2011 new-car sales, which could come in as high as 12.8 million vehicles when December comes to a close.

“With annual sales still far below the level achieved prior to the last recession, there’s plenty of indication that pent-up demand is far from spent,” said Lacey Plache, chief economist. “Improved selection and loosening credit conditions are helping to entice the millions of buyers that are waiting to jump back into the market.”

From January until April, the industry will see the tail end of the current “mini-bubble” of auto sales generated by car buyers who steered away from high prices and poor selection at dealer lots last summer following the Japanese earthquake, according to Of those months, sales are likely to peak in March, a popular car-buying month.

At that point, seasonal factors will resume as a key influence on sales in 2012, resulting in more volatile sales on a monthly basis as opposed to the flat line monthly sales that were seen this year from May through November, according to Next summer’s sales will be influenced in May by graduation-related purchases and again in August by the summer sell-down of current year models. Popular year-end sales events also should continue to keep the recent trend of strong November and December sales performances well intact.

The continued slow pace of the economic recovery and uncertainty in the months leading up to the U.S. presidential election may constrain sales growth, Plache added. Threats of a European recession and a Chinese economic slowdown also will pose a risk to growth in the auto market. And if these or other negative events shake the marketplace, new vehicle sales momentum could weaken.

To read’s full 2012 forecast, click here.