UPDATE 1-JD Power-LMC raise 2012 US auto sales forecast
* October auto sales seen rising 11 percent from yr ago
* North American 2012 production forecast raised
* October sales seen at 14.8 mln on adjusted annualized rate
DETROIT, Oct 25 (Reuters) - J.D. Power and Associates and LMC Automotive on Thursday raised the forecast for 2012 U.S. auto sales to 14.4 million vehicles, from the previous forecast of 14.3 million, as the auto industry continues to recover from its downturn three years ago. The consultancies also forecast October U.S. auto sales at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 14.8 million vehicles, down slightly from a 14.9 million rate in September. Total light vehicle U.S. sales for October should be about 1.13 million, up 11 percent from last October, the two consultancies said. ``It is becoming clear that the U.S. automotive market is finally approaching a stage of a more natural level of demand, which has been accelerated by increasing consumer confidence and a need to replace aging vehicles,'' said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. Since 2009, when auto sales dipped to 28-year lows of 10.4 million vehicles, sales have risen steadily, to 11.6 million in 2010 and 12.8 million last year. The two consultancies maintained next year's U.S. auto sales forecast at 15 million vehicles. LMC Automotive also increased its forecast for 2013 North American auto production to ``approach'' 16 million vehicles for the first time since 2002. North America auto production rose 20 percent in the first nine months of this year, LMC said. Strong demand for new vehicles along with foreign automakers making more cars in North America are driving increased production, but LMC warned that meeting the growth will depend on supplier investment, including more workers. U.S. retail auto sales -- not including fleet sales to volume customers -- is forecast to be 943,200 vehicles, up 13 percent from last October, the consultancies said. ``Fleet sales in October are expected to represent 17 percent of total sales, which is slightly below the 5-year average of 19 percent for October and indicative of automakers continuing to manage production levels,'' the consultancies said.