Car dealership
A man walks past a row of vehicles at a dealership in Detroit, April 1, 2014. The NHTSA has been working with automakers to improve the rate of repairs of recalled vehicles. Reuters/Rebecca Cook

UPDATE March 3, 2015: U.S. new auto sales increased 5.3 percent in February, to 1.26 million units, compared to February 2014. The seasonally adjusted annualized rate – a running measure of deliveries over a 12-month period that gauges the health of the market – came in at 16.24 million instead of the 16.7 million units that were expected.

Original story begins here:

Blizzardlike conditions blasting heavily populated areas of the U.S. in recent weeks didn’t have a major impact on car sales this month. Americans continue to feast on low interest rates and longer new-car loan deals to replace the old cars they’ve been driving through the tepid recovery years of the Great Recession.

“While consumer confidence fell month over month in February, it still remains high from last year,” Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights for Kelley Blue Book, said via email. “Along with an unemployment rate that continues to drop and low interest rates, most signs remain very positive in the automotive market.”

The world’s major automakers will release their monthly U.S. sales data Tuesday. Dealership data collected by forecasters this month indicate automakers will sell about 1.29 million new vehicles in February, or about 8 percent more than in the comparable month a year ago.

February’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate, a monthly measure of the auto market that suggests the number of cars sold during a 12-month period, should be at or near 16.7 million. This means February sales could be sufficient enough for the U.S. to hit 17 million units in 2015, which would be the highest number of new cars sold since 2001.

Annual U.S. new-car sales are 58 percent higher than they were in 2009, at the low point of the auto-industry crisis caused by the Great Recession. In 2014, automakers delivered 16.49 million vehicles. Sales jumped 14 percent in January, to 1.15 million units, beating estimates.

Toyota Motor Corp. is expected to see the largest increase in sales compared with last February, by as much as 17 percent, after its Corolla regained its top spot as the country’s most popular sedan for the first time in three years. Truck, SUV and crossover deliveries are expected to help U.S. automakers -- Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and FCA (formerly Chrysler Group) -- grow sales by between 6 percent and 9 percent.

“The industry had a great start to 2015 in January, and that sales momentum continues in February with exceptional growth in retail sales,” said John Humphrey, senior vice president and general manager of global automotive operations at J.D. Power. Honda Motor and the Kia Motors are expected to outperform their American peers in terms of sales growth on strong performance in their top-selling sedans and crossovers.

Retail sales, excluding fleet sales to governments and corporations, and offering the clearest measure of consumer demand, increased 9 percent this month, to 1.03 million vehicles, according to the forecast of J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

“While the outlook for 2015 auto sales and U.S. economic expansion is upbeat, this month’s disruption in operations at West Coast ports may have some impact,” automotive pricing and data provider said in its forecast this week.

Workers and shippers at crucial ports in California, Oregon and Washington recently reached preliminary agreement on a new five-year contract. The standoff between them had been slowing imports since November. Because the slowdown affected the delivery of auto parts to the U.S. from Asia, it forced Toyota and Honda, as well as the Subaru unit of Fuji Heavy Industries, to curb production this month. Accordingly, inventories are expected to reflect the impact in coming weeks, which could pull down March sales for some models.

Sales are usually stronger in March than they are in February, in part because Americans sometimes use their federal income-tax refunds as down payments on new-car purchases. After that, sales tend to dip in April before a slow climb toward summer.