It hasn't been that long, just a few years, since the automakers were in serious trouble. Car sales had bottomed out, and the battle against bankruptcy was on. But now, in an optimistic sign of the industry’s continued recovery, sales are enjoying their second straight year of growth.

Automakers reported selling 12.7 million cars in 2011, more than a million more than in 2010 and two million more than in 2009. This year those numbers could climb even higher, reaching 13.8 million — close to the 14 million experts consider a “healthy market.”

In reaction, auto makers are adding thousands of factory jobs, with the Center for Automotive Research predicting that by 2015, the industry will add 167,000 such jobs, a 28 percent increase over today’s levels.

Analysts point to lower interest rates on loans and the need for Americans to replace old cars and trucks they kept when the recession hit, in addition to the millions of teens or 20-somethings who are buying their first cars.

[Associated Press]