January’s polar vortex cold spell punished auto sales last month as most major auto makers reported lower U.S. sales compared with a year ago and blamed the harsh winter weather for depressing demand.

However, industry executives said the U.S. market remains strong and sales should pick up as the weather improves, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

“The overall performance (last month) correlated pretty closely with the weather,” said John Felice, Ford Motor Co.’s vice president of U.S. sales and service. Demand fell significantly early in the month, picked up when the weather improved in the middle of the month and then plummeted again near the end of the month when bad weather struck again, he said. “We expect things to return back to trend. All the fundamentals still look really solid.”

Snow storms that dumped record snowfall in some regions followed by extremely cold temperatures throughout the month kept people out of showrooms. GM estimated that the seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate was 15.3 million, down from 15.6 million in December.

Results at some auto companies are still being tallied and a full details will be available later today. Morgan Stanley put January’s sales pace at 15.2 million vehicles, flat with a year ago but weaker than analysts had forecast. For all of 2014, industry executives and analysts are predicting U.S. car and light truck sales will reach 16 million vehicles or more, up from 15.6 million in 2013.

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