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GM's Barra says she expects younger car buyers to help boost U.S. market growth (Photo: GM)

The US car market is set to continue its expansion this year, GM CEO Mary Barra told reporters, predicting light-vehicle sales of between 16.5 million and 17.0 million units in 2015. Barra cited a strengthening economy as the main reason for the optimism.

If confirmed, the 2015 sales numbers would be in the neighborhood of the record 17 million units sold in the U.S. in 2001. In 2014, the industry sold 16.5 million units.

"There is still plenty of room for the auto industry to grow," Barra said in a press briefing. "The strength of the labor market, better job security and the recovery in home prices have consumers feeling pretty good about the future," she added

In addition, the GM CEO said, lower fuel prices and rising incomes should boost consumer confidence.

But the most important expected change, she said, is "the return of younger and first-time buyers to the market.”

Barra said she was optimistic that GM's Chevrolet brand would attract new customers in 2015, mostly because it has reentered the mid-size pickup segment with the Colorado and launched a range of other new models in recent years.