U.S. auto makers will sell 1.06 million vehicles in January, improving slightly on December’s performance with a 15.5 million-unit seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to a WardsAuto forecast.

The projected 44,141-unit daily sales rate (over 25 selling days) would represent an 11.7% improvement over year-ago (24 selling days).

December’s 15.3 million SAAR was the second-highest monthly rate of 2012, but low inventories and recall issues hindered delivery of some vehicles and those delayed sales are expected to show up in January’s total.

Single-month bumps in some manufacturers’ fleet sales and strong retail-market momentum also figure strongly in the forecast.

Additionally, the report factors in extra demand related to October’s Hurricane Sandy, as owners continue to replace vehicles destroyed by the storm.

General Motors is expected to sell in excess of 187,000 light vehicles in January, a 7.2% increase over year-ago, giving the auto maker a 17.7% share of the market.

Ford and Toyota are projected to finish neck and neck this month, with Toyota potentially besting Ford in LV sales for the first time since September. WardsAuto’sforecast calls for each to sell more than 160,000 LVs this month, accounting for near-equal market shares of just over 15%.

Ford’s projected 14.6% year-over-year daily sales gain reflects improving inventory of its recently launched Fusion midsize car, as well as payback deliveries from delayed Fusion and Escape sales related to a December engine recall.

Toyota is thought to have delayed some fleet sales from December to January to accommodate last month’s strong retail demand, accounting in part for its 24.3% rise in same-month sales rate.

Despite a seasonal month-to-month drop in truck sales, Chrysler is expected to maintain its 11.2% December market share with increased fleet activity. WardsAuto forecasts the auto maker to deliver more than 118,000 vehicles in January, a 13.6% gain over year-ago DSR.

Honda should hold onto its December share, as well, delivering 104,000 LVs (up 20.7%) and accounting for a little less than 10% of the market.

The WardsAuto forecast shows Hyundai-Kia improving 4.1% over year-ago, grabbing an 8% slice of the market, while Nissan rounds out the top seven auto makers, with a 7.8% share.

The remaining companies are expected to extend their 7-month streak of year-over-year double-digit gains, with a 7.8% bump in combined daily sales that will see strong luxury-brand deliveries adding to Volkswagen’s steady market growth.

January traditionally accounts for a smaller-than-average share of annual sales, and small swings in volume have an outsized effect on the seasonal rate. Nonetheless, the projected January SAAR, which comes in above the early consensus forecast of 15 million for full-year 2013, points to a potential for that number to move up early in the year.

A mere 4% increase over 2012’s total would be necessary to lift 2013 LV sales to 15 million. Only two of the past 24 months have failed to surpass a 3% gain.

The SAAR for fourth-quarter 2012 was 15 million units, meaning no improvement is needed for full-year 2013 to reach that level.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com