Good economic news, seasonal trends and strong truck demand should keep March U.S. light-vehicle sales humming at February’s 15.3 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, a new WardsAuto forecast indicates.

U.S. auto makers are expected to sell 1.45 million cars and light trucks, for a projected 53,845-unit daily rate (over 27 selling days), a 7.7% improvement from year-ago (28 days).

The projected volume also marks a 3.8% gain compared with last March’s strong results.

A number of economic factors are playing a role in this month’s upbeat forecast, including data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that show a rise in wages and spending in February. Unemployment dipped to 7.7%, the lowest jobless rate since December 2008.

In addition, the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index rose 11.2 points in February, mimicking a rise in both the Board’s Present Situation and Expectation indices.

Housing demand, an historical bellwether for the auto industry, also gained momentum in February, when single-family housing starts reached their fastest pace since June 2008. Overall home sales outpaced year-ago levels for the 20th straight month and housing prices registered year-over-year gains for the 12th consecutive month.

The forecast DSR equates to an 8.8% improvement over February’s results, a sequential gain in line with last year’s February-to-March movement.

General Motors’ projected 260,000 deliveries would lift the auto maker’s DSR 16.3% over year-ago, giving it an 17.8% share of the market. GM’s results should reflect exceptionally strong truck sales, as the company continues to incentivize the sell-down of current-generation large pickups to clear dealer lots for the all-new models bowing later this year.

As a result, Ford likely will see its competing pickups cede some share this month, while its car sales will be hampered at least somewhat by low inventory of the all-new Fusion. Even so, WardsAuto looks for Ford to hold on to its February market share of 16%-plus. Volume sales of 236,000 LVs should increase its DSR 11.4% over strong-year ago results.

Chrysler is expected to lose share from prior-month levels, claiming more than 11% of the market on LV deliveries of 163,000 units. That would represent a 4.3% DSR improvement over like-2012, though GM’s truck initiative potentially could keep the lid on Chrysler’s share growth.

Honda is forecast to post a strong month as its new Accord gains traction in the market. The WardsAuto outlook calls for the auto maker to grab 9.5% of monthly sales, improving its daily volume 12.3% over year-ago with 137,000 deliveries.

Toyota, still playing a little above traditional levels in the fleet market, should increase its market share to 14.3% this month from 14% in February. Volume should reach 207,000 LVs, good for a 5.9% bump in DSR.

March historically is a strong month for Nissan, and the WardsAuto forecast calls for the auto maker to finish its fiscal year with nearly 9% of monthly deliveries, despite volume and DSR dipping from year-ago.

Hyundai-Kia’s daily sales and volume also are expected to slip below year-ago levels, with the South Korean brands grabbing 8.3% of the market on delivery of 121,000 vehicles.

The March forecast would bring industry first-quarter LV sales to 3.68 million units, a 6.5% improvement from year-ago.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com