Pent-up demand to the rescue?

Consumers have delayed buying cars and trucks during the recession. The average age of all light vehicles on U.S. roads was 9.8 years at the end of 2009, and will rise to 10.1 years by 2011, says consultancy A.T. Kearney.

"We know cars last longer, but they don't last forever," says A.T. Kearney partner Daniel Cheng.

He predicts U.S. light-vehicle sales will rebound to about 11.7 million units from 10.4 million in 2009.

And then, he says, sales will really take off.

Probably 14.4 million in 2011, and maybe 15 million.

In 2012, probably 16.1 million, with a shot at 16.8 million.

Few other forecasters are seeing a return to 16 million that soon. But Cheng figures 9.2 million units of pent-up demand will be coming into the market starting next year.

It would be even more if consumers could get credit. A.T. Kearney estimates consumers delayed purchases of 19.6 million units between 2007 and 2010.

If he's right, we'll be out of this recession a lot faster than I was expecting.