Analysis

Worldwide vehicle sales rose 12% in December, pushing full-year 2010 car and truck sales to 74.6 million units, a 14.6% increase over 2009.

The increase was spurred by exceptional growth in several markets, against a background of moderate turnarounds in most regions. This is in stark contrast to earlier in the year, when gains topped 33% in January and remained well above 20% through the first quarter.

While regional differences were most pronounced at the beginning of last year, worldwide growth in 2010 was a decidedly lopsided affair.

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China, the world’s largest market, set a global record with 18.1 million deliveries, up a staggering 32.8% for the year, for a volume increase of nearly 4.5 million vehicles.

Asia’s third-largest market, India, enjoyed a 34.3% increase on volume sales of more than 3 million units.

Overall sales in Asia were up 25.8% and accounted for 43.2% of the global market, up from prior-year’s 39.3%. Asia was the only major region to increase its share.

In North America, the U.S. added 1.1 million sales, pushing its yearly result to roughly 11.8 million units, an 11.0% rise that powered a regional sales bump of 10.5% for the year. In total, the region took 19.0% of world vehicle sales, down from 19.8% the prior year.

South America was energized by 11.4% growth in its biggest market, Brazil, and double-digit increases in a number of secondary markets. It saw overall sales grow 14.6%, in line with the global market as a whole. The region accounted for 7% of world sales in both 2009 and 2010.

Europe’s vehicle deliveries inched up just 1% on 19.3 million units. The region’s largest market, Germany, saw sales dive 21% to 3.2 million units, while the second-largest market, France, notched a 1% uptick.

The region’s sluggish sales were due in large part to the end of government-backed scrappage programs, which buoyed sales in 2009. Europe’s global share fell to 25.9% in 2010 from prior-year’s 29.4%.

The rest of the world markets accounted for an estimated 5% of vehicle sales.

However, regional disparities in growth were lessening by year’s end.

December was the second-best month of the year with 6.6 million sales worldwide, marking the second consecutive month of year-over-year increases for all regions. Growth for the month in Europe (9.2%), North America (10.3%) and Asia (11.6%) was separated by less than three percentage points.

While monthly sales in South America jumped more than 30% at year’s end, it appeared the major shifts in world market share during 2010 were unlikely to continue at the same pace through 2011.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com