Santa Monica-based Edmunds.com is projecting 15 million new car sales nationwide in 2013, a 4 percent increase over 2012.
Pre-recession new car sales peaked at around 17 million units.
Still, the 2012 sales total of nearly 14.5 million vehicles is a 13.5 percent increase over 2011 and the highest annual total since 2007.
"What's especially encouraging is the current competitive strength among the automakers," said Lacey Plache, Edmunds' chief economist. "Consumers will continue to benefit from exciting new models and technologies and potentially lower prices as automakers continue to battle for market share."
The Sacramento-based California New Car Dealers Association will release 2012 numbers in a few weeks. CNCDA has already projected 2012 statewide new car sales including fleet sales to come in at about 1.6 million units, which would be a 24 percent improvement over about 1.29 million in 2011.