Production disruptions caused by the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan continue to depress market performance around the world, as global vehicle sales in May, up just 2.7%, registered the lowest year-over-year growth since July 2009.

In Japan, vehicles deliveries plunged 33.4% below year-ago levels. However, May sales outpaced April by 27.8%, indicating the nation is on a path to recovery from the spring’s twin natural disasters.

Japan’s 237,364 total vehicle sales left the world’s third-largest car and truck market in the No.7 spot in May, up from No.8 in April, which was the first month the country placed lower than No.4 since at least January 2005.

China’s monthly sales fell below year-ago levels for the third time this year, declining 4% in May. Total deliveries of 1.38 million vehicles dropped the year-to-date total for the world’s No.1 market to just 2.9% above prior-year and raises some question as to whether China can match 2010’s full-year total of more than 18 million units.

Sales growth also continued to decline in India, with May sales just 9.8% ahead of year-ago, the first single-digit uptick in the market since June 2009.

Collectively, markets in the Asia/Pacific region accounted for 2.35 million vehicle deliveries, equating to 37% of world sales, the region’s lowest global market share since May 2009.

Related document: World Vehicle Sales Summary

In the U.S. and Canada, sales of Japanese vehicles slipped precipitously below the rest of the market in May due to supply shortages, pulling North America’s year-over-year performance 2.3% below like-2010 on a volume basis, despite an 11.7% increase in Mexico.

World Sales Summary

Auto makers sold 1.3 million vehicles in the region, giving North America a 20.6% share of world sales.

Germany held on to the No.1 spot in the European auto market, with 335,371 deliveries, while Russia edged out France by less than 2,000 units for the region’s No.2 spot with volume sales of 245,660.

Overall deliveries in Europe rose 14.2% in May, to 1.85 million units. The resulting 29.2% share of world sales was the region’s highest take since June of last year.

Sales in Brazil spiked 26.9% over like-2010, with volume deliveries of 318,560 units enough to give the country the No.4 sales spot worldwide.

Double-digit growth in many of South America’s smaller markets lifted regional sales in May 27.6%, compared with year-ago, for a 7.9% share of global deliveries – a 9-month high.

World vehicle sales through May climbed to 32.62 million units, up 6.0% from year-ago.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com