Global auto makers sold nearly 6.2 million vehicles in October, marking an 8.8% increase over year-ago, the third-lowest gain in 2010 and a slight drop from September’s 10.2% rise.

October’s result was hampered by the fourth-straight month of year-over-year declines in Europe, where deliveries of fewer than 1.6 million vehicles represented a 4.5% drop from prior-year.

The month was the region’s second-worst so far this year, pushing results for the first 10 months below like-2009’s for the first time in 2010, to 16.0 million units from 16.1 million.

The negative comparisons in large part are due to year-ago sales spikes caused by Europe’s widespread scrappage programs. However, the continued failure to reach those levels in 2010 raises questions about the effectiveness of such programs in kick-starting the economy.

The downturn in Europe in October was offset by growth in the other major regions, including a 15.1% increase in Asia’s vehicle sales, led by substantial grains in two of the three largest markets: China (+21.6%) and India (+34.3%).

Vehicle deliveries in Japan, the second-largest Asian market, fell 23.2%, as the government-sponsored scrappage program ended in September. Year-to-date sales for the Asian region stood at 26.6 million units, up 29% over year-ago.

Related document: World Vehicle Sales Summary

North American sales climbed 11.6% in October, compared with prior-year, accounting for 18.9% of the global vehicle market. U.S. sales, alone, grew 13% ahead of year-ago, when the industry still was undergoing payback for the recently ended government scrappage program.

Deliveries in Mexico last month rose 10%, but Canada saw a mere 1.8% uptick, compared with year-ago when recovery already was under way. Collectively, the region’s sales through the first 10 months rose 10% to 11.7 million vehicles, compared with like-2009.

South America’s explosive growth continues to slow, as year-ago comparisons run into the start of Brazil’s marked recovery. Brazilian vehicle sales fell 2.2% last month, holding the region’s overall gain to just 3.7% despite continued double-digit increases in smaller markets, including Argentina (+36.7%) and Venezuela (+47.7%).

South America held a 7.2% global market share in October. Year to date, the region is tracking 11.7% ahead of year-ago.

World vehicle sales through October now stand at 61.5 million units, up 15% over like-2009.