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January auto sales are no cause for panic

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As automakers reported weak January sales, there was a welcome and healthy reaction from dealers, auto company executives and those following the industry.

Nobody is panicking.

Yes, January's sales pace of 15.24 million vehicles was well below the monthly sales estimates many on Wall Street had issued over the last two weeks. But the slew of storms and the severe cold weather that hammered much of the country last month is the reason many are not concerned.

(Read more: GM, Ford sales sink on weather)

"We had days last month when nobody came in the showroom," said Scott Adams, who owns Adams Toyota in suburban Kansas City. "When it warmed up a few days later, we had a lot of customers. In fact, we had a few record sales days for a January."

Adams' description was echoed across the industry.

Call it the continental divide. January U.S. sales were relatively strong west of the Rockies, where the weather was mild, but it was a different story east of the Rockies.

On Ford's monthly sales call, executives estimated industry sales were down 10 percent or more in the central U.S. and 1 percent to 9 percent in the East and Southeast.

(Read more: Ford: We'll roll out 16 new models in 2014)

What really did in many dealers was the second blast of storms late in the month.

"It seemed like sales rebounded and picked up in the middle of the month, but once the second polar vortex hi, dealers couldn't recover the lost sales," said Jessica Caldwell with Edmunds.com.

Though the sales decline would be a cause for concern in other months, January is historically a low-volume month; dealers are not yet fearing a pause, let alone a downturn.

The question is whether auto sales will rebound this month, and many believe they will.

I'm not worried," said Adams. "The people buying cars right now are the people who should be buying. They are not the people who raise red flags."

He is encouraged that showroom traffic picked up on days when the weather was not unusually cold or snowy.

(Read more: We have too many cars: AutoNation CEO)

While inventory levels have risen in the past month, automakers are far from hitting the point where they would curtail production.

Joe Spak, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, summed up the hope for February in a research note, writing "The big question is how much sales impacted by extreme weather will come back in February. Most should, but today's NE weather not helping ..."

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.

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