DETROIT - Barclays Capital Research said on Wednesday that it remains cautious about a consumer recovery in 2010 but still sees U.S. light vehicle sales increasing to 11.7 million units this year.

Full-year 2009 sales were 10.4 million vehicles, the deepest decline since World War Two when adjusted for population.

December sales reported on Tuesday were the strongest monthly sales since September 2008 excluding the months boosted by the government cash-for-clunkers incentive.

Barclays said this suggests the industry is witnessing a real improvement in underlying consumer demand for U.S. autos.

Barclays said its projection of annual sales of 11.7 million vehicles for 2010 is on the low end of expectations that range from 11.5 million to 13.3 million. U.S. light vehicle sales in 2008 were 13.2 million.

We remain cautious around the extent of a consumer recovery in 2010, the Barclays research note said.

From 1996 to 2007, U.S. annual light vehicle sales were at least 15 million units and were above 16 million units each year from 1999 to 2007.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall, editing by Dave Zimmerman)