Auto sales just rose 16% in December, and companies such as Ford ( F), GM ( GM) and Nissan ( NSANY) are optimistic about 2011 auto sales despite rising gas prices.

It's a marked improvement from when J.D. Power cut its sales forecast for the year from 13.2 million vehicles to 12.9 million vehicles in October, and it also bodes well for winter buyers -- who'll be in the showroom during what Consumer Reports calls the auto industry's slowest season. January buyers may still find some deals on leftover 2010 models, but February buyers are usually rewarded for their patience with overwrought President's Day incentives and rebates.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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