NEW YORK—A massive snowstorm took a bite out of U.S. auto sales last month, but the industry looked set to post one of its best Januarys on record, results showed Tuesday. forecast that total industry sales would reach an annualized pace of 17.5 million vehicles in January once all automakers have reported results.

That would be down about 30% from December but only a 0.5% dip from a year ago, according to the projection.

"Many brands had their best January sales ever, suggesting the new-car party will continue into the new year," said Karl Brauer, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

"With transaction prices still rising, incentive levels holding steady, and minimal auto loan defaults, the health of the market remains high while demand for new cars shows no sign of slowing." 

General Motors,  the largest U.S. automaker, delivered 203,745 cars and trucks in the month, up a bare 0.5% from a year ago, while Ford sales fell 2.6% to 173,723 units.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles turned in a better month, with an overall gain of 6.9% to 155,037 units.

Toyota sales fell 4.7% to 161,283 vehicles, but the Japanese automaker noted that in addition to the massive winter storm which shuttered dealerships along the East Coast, there were also two fewer selling days compared with January 2015.

"The industry is off to a healthy start in 2016," said Bill Fay, general manager for the Toyota division.

Volkswagen, which has been struggling to rebuild consumer trust in the wake of an emissions-cheating scandal which has also forced it to suspend sales of diesel models, saw sales fall 14.6% to 20,079 vehicles in January.

"January sales numbers were down due to the seasonal nature of the fleet business," Mark McNabb, chief operating officer for Volkswagen of America, said in a statement.

"Despite that and the weather conditions in the Northeast portion of the country, Volkswagen dealers improved in terms of retail business."

U.S. auto sales touched a new high in 2015 as a surge in job growth boosted household incomes and cheap credit encouraged buying.

Some 17.47 million vehicles were sold in the United States last year, nearly 70,000 more than the record set 15 years earlier, according to Autodata.

"We believe industry fundamentals such as the age of the vehicle fleet, well-managed inventory levels, firm used-car pricing, good credit availability and low fuel prices will support higher industry sales in 2016," Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist, said in a statement.

"In addition, household balance sheets are strong and the labor market continues to improve."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016