Analysis

Global auto makers sold an estimated 5,313,000 total vehicles in February, up 20.4% from like-2009, but down 5.9% from January’s 5,647,000 of cars and trucks.

February results lifted the global 2010 total to more than 10.9 million, a 27.1% gain over year-ago.

Related document: World Vehicle Sales Summary

But while North America and Europe still are struggling to return to pre-recession levels, gains in Asia and South America are being spurred by record expansion in some of the world’s largest vehicle markets.

The Asia/Pacific region was the largest contributor to the growth in global sales, with February deliveries climbing 39.9%, compared with year-ago, pushing the 2-month year-to-date total 55.9% ahead of like-2009.

At the heart of the region’s robust growth was China – now the world’s largest vehicle market – where sales through February soared 84.4% above year-ago’s pace. India, the world’s fourth-largest market, saw total-vehicle sales rise 46.6% in the period.

Deliveries in Japan, the third-largest market, jumped 20.9% through February, compared with like-2009.

Sales in China were spurred in large part by government tax breaks on new-cars, while customers in India hurried to make purchases before a new tax takes effect later in the year.

February vehicle sales in Europe fell 4.4% from January but inched up 1.3% ahead of like-2009. Results for the region were dampened by Germany’s 28.3% decline in February, compared with year-ago and Russia’s similar 29.9% falloff.

The ongoing decline in German vehicle demand was attributed to pull-ahead sales in September resulting from the country’s large-scale scrappage-incentive program.

Italy showed the best results in February, with sales up 20.9% from year-ago to 220,000 vehicles. France followed, with deliveries rising 14.3% to 214,000.

No country in Europe was among the top-five markets in February. Europe’s combined share of global vehicle sales rose to 25.1% from 24.7% in January, but still 29.8% below like-2009.

North America’s February sales increased 11.4% over year-ago, when vehicle deliveries were at their lowest point of the region’s recession.

February’s relatively disappointing figure was due in part to U.S. winter storms that discouraged auto sales for several days in some parts of the country. However, it also could be interpreted as an indication robust recovery is not yet under way.

North America accounted for 19% of worldwide sales in February, up from 16.4% in the prior month but well below historical levels.

Brazil regained the No.5 spot in world sales, with February deliveries of 232,000 vehicles, up 11.2% from year ago and on pace to break its sales record set in 2009.

The Ward’s monthly global-sales report relies on data from markets accounting for more than 92% of world vehicle sales, plus estimates based on trends and historical data from other markets.

Ward’s estimates world light-vehicle sales fell below 5 million units in February, down 4% from January, but 18.8% ahead of like-2009.Year-to-date LV sales reached 10.1 million units, for a 24.2% gain on year-ago.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com