A surge in car and truck buying that began in October is expected to lift last year's U.S. auto sales above a dismal 2009.

Customers gained confidence in the economy, loans were easier to get and deals got sweeter.

Ford, General Motors, Toyota and other car companies will report 2010 and December sales throughout the day on Tuesday.

Truecar.com analyst Jesse Toprak predicted that the number of cars, SUVs and pickups sold in the U.S. will rise to 11.5 million, up 11 percent from 2009. For December, he forecast sales of 1.1 million cars and trucks, up 7 percent from a year earlier.

Car and truck buying finally is starting to pick up after two tough years. Sales in 2008 totaled 13.2 million, down from 16.1 million in 2007, the final year before the recession took hold. In 2009, sales notched their worst performance since 1982 at 10.4 million.

"The consumer is coming back to the showrooms, particularly in the more affluent and higher quality credit segments," Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson said, referring to the final three months of last year.

Sales, when measured at an annual rate and adjusted for seasonal changes, sputtered all year before hitting an annual rate of 12.3 million in October and November. Toprak expects an annual rate above 12 million for December as well.

Barclays expected Toyota to be the only major car company to report lower sales in the U.S. in 2010. Its sales have been hurt by safety recalls. Ford is expected to post the biggest increase.

Car companies loosened up on incentives such as rebates, low-interest loans and lease deals. Truecar said incentives rose to an average of $2,721 in December, up 7 percent from the same month of 2009.