SANTA MONICA, Calif. — A continued release of pent-up demand will drive new-car sales to 16.4 million in 2014, estimated this week. If the vehicle information site’s prediction is realized, the new-vehicle sales will have reached its highest sales total since 2006 when vehicle sales totaled 16.5 million units.

“The average age of all light vehicles on the road climbed to 11.4 years in 2013, and an aging fleet will continue to force buyers back to the market next year,” says Edmunds Chief Economist Dr. Lacey Plache. “With used-car prices still elevated over past norms and used car supply still tight, the new-car market will remain attractive to many of these buyers.”

Plache says the auto sales environment in 2014 will closely resemble the environment in 2013, for which expects new-car sales to reach 15.5 million units. One of the drivers, the site said, is the continued flood of lease returns flowing into the market, with Edmunds estimating that 500,000 more leases will expire in 2013 than in 2012. The site said that estimate will grow by an additional 300,000 next year, accounting for about a third of all expected sales growth in 2014.

But the 2014 sales picture isn’t entirely rosy for the auto industry. Even if new-car sales grow at the 6 percent rate projects, it will be the slowest year-to-year growth since auto sales bottomed out in 2009.

“The economy has not yet improved enough for recovery to widely reach the groups hardest hit by the recession, including young people, lower income households and small businesses,” explains Plache. “Even though auto sales from these groups have improved from recession lows, their participation in the recovery still lags the rest of the market.”