A slowly improving sales climate, boosted by active incentive spending by key auto makers, should push this month’s U.S. light-vehicle deliveries to their highest seasonally adjusted annual rate since March 2008.

Auto makers are expected to sell 1,163,000 LVs in September, according to a WardsAuto forecast, lifting the LV SAAR to a 54-month high of 14.6 million units.

At forecast sales, September would become the first month to surpass the August 2009 SAAR attained during the Cash-for-Clunker scrappage program since the 2-month U.S. government scheme ended.

The WardsAuto forecasts calls for September’s daily sales rate to finish 10.7% ahead of year-ago to 46,514 units. Both have 25 selling days.

Meanwhile, the expected 2% drop in the DSR from August’s 47,422 (27 selling days) would make it the second-best August-to-September sales shift in the past eight years.

The actual SAAR through August rose to 14.2 million units on the strength of that month’s 14.47 million units, in line with a second-half sales acceleration called for by WardsAuto and other industry analysts expecting full-year LV deliveries to exceed 14.3 million.

Market signs continue to be positive. Pent-up demand from the recession and a slowly improving sales environment continue to drive new-vehicle deliveries.

The unemployment rate dropped to a 4-month low of 8.1% in August, and while new-job creation slipped below 100,000 for the month, credit has become more widely available in the past three months than at the start of the year, even in the sub-prime market.

Housing starts and prices, indicators often associated with the health of the auto industry, continued to climb in August. Improving home prices, in particular, can have a strong positive influence on overall consumer confidence.

LV Sales should also be helped by the industry’s larger-than-usual September push to move pickup trucks, spurred by General Motors’ efforts to reduce its current-model truck stocks by year-end and competitors’ response to GM incentives.

GM is forecast to sell 217,000 LVs for September, giving it an 18.6% share of the market and lifting its DSR 4.6% over year-ago. Ford should improve its deliveries 4.3%, grabbing a 15.5% share, while Chrysler sales are expected to rise 8.1% for an 11.8% share, the auto maker’s highest in 12 months.

Toyota will lead all Asian auto makers this month, accounting for 14.8% of LV sales with 173,000 units, according to the WardsAuto analysis, up 41.9% over its stock-strapped year-ago results.

Incentives should help Honda deliveries surge 28% over its stock-depleted prior-year, resulting in a relatively strong September for the company, which traditionally undergoes a dramatic August-to-September drop in sales.

Hyundai and Kia, which also routinely experience sharp August-September declines, will hold closer to form as their combined DSR drops 12% from prior month and up just 3% over year-ago when they were able to take advantage of the shortages suffered by their Japanese competitors.

The two Korean auto makers combined should account for 7.8% of LV sales this month, in a dead heat with Nissan for final position among the Top 7 sellers.

The WardsAuto forecast predicts September’s results will bring year-to-date U.S. LV sales to 10.84 million units, up 14.3% from like-2011.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com