2009 was the single worst sales year for the auto industry in 30 years, with just 10.4 million vehicles moving off dealer lots. Consultancy A.T. Kearney feels a lot better about 2010 and beyond, though, as pent-up demand is beginning to creep into the market. A.T. Kearney predicts that by the time 2010 is in the history books, the industry will have hit between 11.4 and 12.3 million cars and trucks sold, but if you hold the company to just one number, it estimates a market of 11.7 million units.

If the economic recovery continues to gain steam, 2011 could see 14.4 million sales. That would be a huge sum for an industry that has scaled back production to meet current demand. The firm feels 2012 will bring auto sales back to pre-industry collapse, with an estimated 16.6 million cars and trucks manufactured.

It's worth noting that the A.T. Kearney forecast is quite a bit more aggressive than many we've seen, but analyst Daniel Cheng tells Reuters that the analysis closely follows what happened in the early 1980s, when demand shot right back up after a lull of a couple of years. Among the potential calamities that could derail the industry's climb back to normalcy are a double-dip recession and credit that doesn't loosen up over time.

If A.T. Kearney's industry sales forecast comes close to true, we're thinking there are going to be a lot of happy automakers in carmaking nations the world over. The industry will need to hire more workers, which won't be bad for the economy, either.

Where do you think the industry will finish in 2011? Leave your best guess in 'Comments.'

[Source: Reuters | Image: Getty]