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In tough winter, car dealers may try to sweeten the pot for sales

Even if you haven't been out in the storm, by now you've seen the bone-chilling pictures of ice and snow slowing commutes to a crawl. But this relentless winter isn't just snarling traffic; it is freezing car sales.

Snow is keeping winter-weary customers away from car dealerships like Alex Perdikis’ in Maryland. At the height of the most recent storm, Perdikis told CBS News that he sold just one car.

 "We typically don't like to talk about the weather,” said Perdikis.
  

The brutal winter weather has put a dent in car sales, just when the auto industry was finally getting back on track. General Motors saw sales drop 12 percent in January while sales at Ford Motor Company fell 7 percent.

“January was a really tough month,” said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst for Edmunds.com. “I think a lot of it was weather-related.” 

Car sales may be frozen back East, but in sunny California higher-than-normal temperatures and low interest rates have created the perfect storm for a car-buying boom, CBS News' Brandon Scott reports.

Steven Smith is the manager at a Ford dealership in Santa Monica, Calif., where January sales grew by 25 percent. He told Scott it makes him feel “tremendous.”

Car dealers across the state credit unseasonably warm weather and great deals for helping them keep pace with their 2013 sales figures, when Californians drove 2 million new cars off the lot. 

“Compared to back in '08 or '07, when things were kind of rough,” said Smith, “it's nice to see that it's moving in the right direction and the needle is going up.”

Automakers are expected to keep the needle moving nationwide by offering special incentives like more cash back and low interest rates. Industry analysts, like Caldwell, predict it will work, once the rest of the country thaws out.

“We are expecting 16.4 million new car sales, which puts us back to pre-recession levels,” said Caldwell.

This is good news for snow-covered dealerships hoping to follow California's lead.