Automakers buoyed by rising consumer confidence, falling unemployment and low gas prices think U.S. auto industry sales could top forecasts.

The Detroit News reported that in January, U.S. auto sales were up almost 14% — and sales are strong in the first half of February — despite brutal winter weather in parts of the northeast that has slowed sales in some areas like Boston.

At the Chicago auto show Thursday (Feb. 12), automakers unveiled new SUVs, pickup trucks and cars — nearly all with pricier features. Low interest rates and long-term repayments and low-cost leases are helping auto sales continue to rise for the seventh straight year — the longest continuous improvement in auto sales in a half-century. But sales — after rising 16.5 million in 2014, up 6%, for the best year since 2006. Sales are expected to rise this year more modestly.

GM North American President Alan Batey emphasized that despite strong sales, the average vehicle on the road is still 10 years old — and there is a lot of pent up demand. “January was really really strong. The fuel prices being low is definitely fueling sales,” Batey said on the sidelines of the Chicago auto show. “I think it could be a big year. I think it will be a really good year. It could be a banner year. We’re ready for it.”

But Batey said the key is balancing supply and demand and staying disciplined.

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