U.S. auto makers will sell 1.19 million light vehicles in February, resulting in a 15.4 million-unit seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to a WardsAuto forecast, putting the monthly rate slightly ahead of the current 3-month average SAAR of 15.3 million.

The projected 49,679-unit daily sales rate (over 24 selling days) would represent an 8.4% improvement over year-ago (25 selling days), with a resulting 4% increase in overall volume.

The forecast DSR would equate to a 19.5% improvement over January’s results, a month-to-month improvement in line with the January-to-February movement over the past decade.

A seasonal rise in sales to commercial fleets and rental companies factors in the February forecast, as well as continued momentum on the retail side, propped up by pent-up post-recession demand and positive economic factors.

The economy added an average of 200,000 non-farm jobs a month during the fourth-quarter 2012, and an additional 157,000 in January, keeping the unemployment rate below 8%.

A larger percentage of jobs came from construction, and January single-family housing starts maintained a December rate that was the highest since July 2008. Existing home sales rose 9.1% last month compared with year-ago, while home prices climbed 12.3%.

General Motors’ 221,000 projected deliveries for February would raise the auto maker’s DSR 10.1% over year-ago, resulting in an 18.6% share, just below last month’s take.

GM’s sales should be buoyed by strong truck deliveries as it works to sell off bloated inventory of its current large pickups before the launch of all-new models later this year.

Ford, which benefitted from a delayed sales bump of its Fusion sedan and Escape cross/utility vehicles in January, is forecast to see daily sales rise 15.6% from year-ago, a January-to-February lift of 25%. The resulting 16.4% share would be the auto maker’s best since December 2011.

Chrysler, with the help of strong seasonal fleet sales, should improve its DSR by nearly 13% over year-ago, grabbing more than 12% of LV sales for the first time since September 2011.

WardsAuto’s forecast calls for Toyota to sell 175,000 LVs in February, accounting for 14.7% of the market, with daily sales up 14.5% from prior-year as the auto maker participates in the fleet market at a slightly higher-than-usual rate for a second straight month while also aggressively marketing its new Camry.

Honda, which has restrained incentives for its new Accord, is expected to take a 9.1% share this month, with daily sales up just 2.4% over year-ago, although February volume could dip below year-ago.

The WardsAuto forecast calls for Nissan to improve daily sales 28% from January but decline 3% from year-ago, with deliveries below 100,000 units.

Hyundai-Kia’s daily sales are predicted to fall from prior-year, which means the auto makers’ monthly volume should underperform like-2012 as well, bringing an end to their current string of record sales for a given month. The expected 91,000 combined deliveries would give the South Korean auto makers 7.6% of the market.

At forecast levels, February will bring year-to-date LV sales to 2.23 million units, an 8.5% improvement on year-ago.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com