Steadily improving economic factors, including rising consumer confidence, should help boost May U.S. light-vehicle deliveries back to the current 6-month sales rate after an April dip in the seasonally adjusted annual rate, a new WardsAuto forecast says.

U.S. auto makers are expected to sell 1.43 million cars and light trucks in the month, equivalent to a 55,127-unit daily rate over 26 selling days, a 7.8% improvement from year-ago that also had 26 days.

The resulting 15.2 million SAAR would be directly in line with the average rate for the prior six months, and 2.1% higher than April’s 14.9 million.

Measures of consumer sentiment and spending continue to bode well for the auto industry entering the May selling period.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers rose to a 6-year high in April, aligning with the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index for the month, with both indices indicating month-to-month and year-over-year upticks in buyer outlook.

The most recent U.S. Commerce Dept. estimate of retail spending also shows sequential and year-over-year growth.

Positive employment indicators help May’s market momentum as well, with the U.S. unemployment rate falling in April to a 52-month low of 7.5%. A subsequent report from the U.S. Labor Dept. shows applications for unemployment benefits are continuing to decline through mid-May.

But the biggest positive indicator for the auto market continues to be housing, which appears to be in the initial stages of an accelerating recovery. The latest report on the housing sector shows April existing-home sales rising to the highest annualized rate since November 2009, complementing growth in new housing starts and existing home prices.

The WardsAuto forecast calls for Ford to see a particularly strong May, with LV deliveries climbing 13.5%, compared with year-ago, to more than 240,000 units. At forecast levels, the auto maker would account for nearly 17% of the LV market, up from 16.2% in April.

Ford sales are expected to slant heavily toward trucks as car inventories get tighter and F-Series pickups regain share from General Motors’ recent sales spike.

GM is projected to sell 255,000 LVs, up roughly 4% from year-ago. However, the auto maker’s share is expected to fall from April’s 18.6% as declining inventory pressure and lower incentives drag pickup sales off their fast pace in the first quarter.

Chrysler’s anticipated 8.8% gain on year-ago’s 162,000 LV sales reflects the strength of some new offerings, in addition to an expected continuation of heavy fleet sales and expanded financing for new buyers.

Detroit Three auto makers are forecast to achieve a combined 45.9% of LV sales in May, compared with 47% in April.

Among the transplants, Honda’s daily sales are expected to rise 4.5% over April’s DSR and 6.3% over year-ago, with total sales of 142,000 units giving the auto maker a 10% share, down slightly from April’s 10.2% take.

Toyota and Nissan should see April-May bumps in DSR in line with recent years. Toyota is forecast to sell 210,000 units in May, bettering April’s daily rate by 15% and improving 3.8% on year-ago results bolstered by higher-than-usual fleet participation.

Toyota’s May deliveries should reap the results of increased incentive and marketing spends, as the auto maker’s monthly share of sales rises almost a full point to 14.7%.

The WardsAuto forecast calls for Nissan to improve its May share considerably, up 7.7% compared with April’s 6.9%. Deliveries are expected to approach 110,000 units, up 20% from prior-year.

Hyundai Group is the only top-7 car company projected to underperform year-ago, with DSR dropping 2.7% to 115,000 units for an 8.1% share of the market.

The year-over-year decline in part reflects Hyundai-Kia’s continued capacity restraints, as well as the renewed market strength of key competitors, including Toyota and Honda.

The WardsAuto May forecast would bring year-to-date LV sales to 6.4 million units, a 7.1% improvement on like-2012.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com