Global auto makers set a new sales record in March, delivering 8,249,000 million cars and trucks worldwide, more than in any other month on record.

While mature markets continue to grapple with downturns from record sales set during the previous decade, the past three years have seen emerging markets, including Brazil, Russia, India and most significantly China, take up the slack and then some.

General population growth and the expansion of the vehicle market in the world’s most-populous countries have been driving annual sales to new heights in recent years.

March historically is a strong sales month, and worldwide deliveries rose 5.2% over prior-year’s 7.84 million units, the next-largest sales month on record.

Growth was led by a 12.7% increase in the Asia/Pacific region, compared with year-ago deliveries that were decimated by the March earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear accidents that took place in Japan.

Indeed, sales surged 71.8% in Japan last month compared with like-2011’s catastrophic results, and the region (less China) was up a combined 23%.

A slim 0.6% improvement in China, to 1.84 million units, was good enough to mark the second-best sales month ever in the world’s largest market, behind January 2011’s 1.89 million, the single biggest monthly volume in a single market.

A 12.9% increase in the U.S., supported by a 10.8% gain in Mexico and a 9.2% improvement in Canada, lifted North America deliveries to a combined 11.9%, marking another step in the region’s ongoing recovery. The 1.68 million vehicle sales were the most sold in a month since May 2008 and accounted for 20.4% of March global sdeliveries.

Europe’s vehicle sales slid for the third consecutive month in March, down 5.7% from year-ago, to 2.12 million units.

Moderate growth in the region’s largest markets, including Germany (+3.1%), the U.K. (+0.8%) and Russia (+12.9%), were offset by double-digit downturns in a number of countries including a 21.4% decline in France.

Vehicle sales in Europe last month accounted for 25.7% of world deliveries, compared with 28.6% year-ago.

South America sales slipped 1.0%, with a 1.8% downturn in Brazil partially offset by growth in smaller markets, including a 48% spike in Venezuela. The region as a whole grabbed 5.7% of global deliveries, compared with 6.1% in like-2011.

The unprecedented March world sales volume brought year-to-date deliveries through the first quarter to 20,650,000, up 3.6% compared with year-ago.