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Pummeling winter weather freezes US automotive sales

CHICAGO--Brutal winter weather chilled U.S. auto sales in February, with General Motors, Ford and Toyota reporting losses Monday even as rival Chrysler extended a winning streak.

Total industry sales were unchanged from February 2013 at 1.2 million vehicles while the sales pace came in at an adjusted, annualized rate of 15.3 million vehicles, according to Autodata.

That was an improvement over the 3-percent drop posted in bitterly cold and storm-swept January.

The U.S. auto industry had been on a years-long growth spurt as it recovered from a deep downturn following the 2008 financial crisis.

Analysts and automakers expect booming sales to return with better weather because there is still so much pent-up demand in the market.

“While extreme winter weather can definitely impede car sales, customers will likely return to the showrooms once spring arrives,” said Eric Ibara, an analyst with automotive valuation group Kelley Blue Book.

GM's sales fell 1 percent to 222,104 vehicles in February, but the largest U.S. automaker forecast strong growth to come.

“Weather continued to impact the industry in February, but GM sales started to thaw during the Winter Olympic Games as our brand and marketing messages took hold,” GM sales chief Kurt McNeil said in a statement.

“Despite a slower start to 2014 than most people expected, we look forward to a very successful year, backed by plenty of new products and what should be the strongest GDP growth since the end of the recession.”

Ford's sales fell 6 percent to 183,947, in part because deliveries of vehicles to fleet customers and parts to its factories were delayed by the wintry weather.

“We still expect to meet our production guidance of 770,000 vehicles for the quarter and should be able to get this back on track in the month of March,” Ford sales chief John Felice said on a conference call.

The second largest U.S. automaker said it still expects overall U.S. auto sales to come in between 16 and 17 million vehicles this year.

Toyota sales fell 4 percent to 159,284 vehicles but the Japanese automaker also expressed optimism that sales would improve soon.

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