The automobile market is tuning up evidenced by the First Trust NASDAQ Global Auto Index (NYSEArca: CARZ) trending higher over the past three months. The exchange traded fund gained 22%, while the broad-market SDPR S&P 500 (NYSEArca: SPY) gained 6% over the same time period.

“The U.S. SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales) rose steadily from a rate of about 14 million in July to about 15.5 million in November and December, Credit Suisse analysts noted in a “2013 Auto Sector Outlook” released Jan. 11. That’s gaining on the 16.15 million vehicles sold in 2007,” Trang Ho wrote for Investor’s Business Daily. [Investors Bullish on Stock ETFs as S&P 500 Nears an All-Time High]

On a global scale, consumers bought 4.4% more cars in 2012 than they did in 2011. This equals roughly to 78.8 million cars sold last year, with analysts calling for 81.1 million estimated car sales this year. Projected sales are expected to rise in the U.S. and China this year with a decline in sales anticipated in Japan and Western Europe in 2013.

China is expected to bolster the auto industry sales heavily this year. An estimated 66 million Chinese households are reported to be able to buy a new car this year, a 50% increase in the number of cars currently on the road in China, according to a Scotiabank report. [Industrial, Transportation ETFs Get Upgrades from S&P]

Further supporting a run-up in CARZ is the low inventory-to-sales ratio that is present should production remain at the same level as 2012. The inventory-to-sales ratio would drop to 2.06 under this circumstance if sales rise to 15.3 million as forecast. For the inventory-to-sales ratio to its pre-recession average of 2.62, U.S. auto makers have to boost production by 4.6% — or 705,000 vehicles — from 2012 levels, reports Ho. [Emerging Market Consumer ETF for Developing Market Growth]

CARZ is currently trading at cheaper valuations than the industrial sector. The ETF is a play on 35 auto makers from 10 countries with a market cap pf at least $500 million.