New light vehicle registrations in the US in 2013 are forecast by Polk to rise 6.6% over last year to reach 15.3m units. 

Polk also forecasts that North American production volumes will increase to the 15.9m units (a 2.4% increase from 2012), driven by an improving economy and capacity expansion in the region.

Polk also sees support for the market coming from a surge in new model activity. It said that new vehicle introductions in 2013 will escalate dramatically, with 43 new vehicle introductions in the US planned for the year, up nearly 50% over 2012 levels. In addition, 60 vehicle redesigns are expected in the coming year. New launch and refreshed product activity is likely to result in an uptick in registrations as showroom traffic and, in turn, sales tend to increase in the timeframe surrounding new introductions.

"Polk expects continued recovery in the industry in 2013 and 2014, a positive sign for the U.S. economy," said Anthony Pratt, director of forecasting for the Americas at Polk.  "The auto sector is likely to continue to be one of the key sectors that lead the US economic recovery, however, we don't expect to realize pre-recession levels in the 17 million vehicles range for many years," he said.  "However, our baseline forecast hinges on Washington's ability to draft a budget plan that will avoid $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases."

Large pickup segment set to grow

Polk's analysis by segment sees the large pickup truck segment, which has declined over the past five years, growing in 2013 due to several important new launches in 2013 and into the 2014 model year. It says that GM, Toyota and Ford are planning to showcase redesigned vehicles in this segment during the next 18-24 months.  Increased marketing activity to support these launches, together with a recovering market for new housing starts, which impacts registrations of new pickup trucks within the construction industry, will result in growth in this segment in the coming year, according to Polk.

The mid-size sedan segment will also continue to lead the industry, Polk maintains.  Currently at more than 18.5% of the overall market, the industry's largest by two percent, Polk anticipates it will continue to grow in the coming year.

"Recent redesigns of nearly every vehicle in the mid-size segment are forcing more competition and continued growth," said Tom Libby, lead analyst for North America at Polk. "The current array of options for consumers in the market for a new mid-sized vehicle makes it a great time to buy a new car."

The luxury segment in the US also will be one to watch in 2013, according to Polk, as it will see significant launch activity within its compact sedan segment, which currently accounts for 2.9 percent of the overall industry.   In addition, if gas prices continue to decline, Polk analysts expect the small luxury crossover segment will continue to swell.

In addition, non-luxury compact crossover vehicles have grown by more than 50 percent in the last five years. Additionally, increased competition in this segment has created pricing pressures, which will result in continued growth, according to Polk analysts.

Polk also forecasts the industry will experience continued growth in the compact and subcompact segments, as OEMs are introducing several new models in the coming year.

"This anticipated growth is largely based on increasing CAFE requirements and significant new product launch activity in the US, as well as increased interest by younger buyers just coming into the market," said Libby.

While the number of available hybrid models in the US will increase this year, Polk anticipates only a slight improvement in this category from its current level of approximately 2.9 percent of the overall market.  Reasons for this include the continued significant price differential between hybrids and traditionally-powered vehicles, and the high number of traditionally-powered vehicles that achieve similar mileage targets as those in the hybrid segment.

US light vehicle market to hit 16m by 2015

Polk expects a return to 16m units in the US by 2015, if not before, 'barring any unusual activity in the marketplace'.  The US market last achieved 16m units in 2007.

See also: US: Light vehicle market to end year on strong note – analysts