World auto makers sold 5.8 million vehicles in February, an 8.4% increase from like-2010 that marked the third consecutive month of declining growth and the lowest year-over-year gain since August.

Asia auto sales were up an estimated 0.1%, the lowest year over-year growth in at least two years. The region’s share slipped to 42.2% of global sales only a month after grabbing a record 48.9% stake.

China vehicle sales were off 2.3%, the first negative comparison with year-ago levels since the country became the world’s largest auto market at the end of 2009.

Sales in Japan fell 12.4% from year-ago, countering the 18.4% increase in India and contributing to the region’s lackluster growth rate.

An unexpected 27.2% jump in U.S. sales, fostered by widespread incentive spending, lifted North America to a 23% increase over year-ago, despite a 3.9% fall in Canada demand.

The lift gave the region a 20.2% share of global sales, up from 18% the prior February.

Related document: World Vehicle Sales Summary

Europe accounted for 24.9% of the global market, as sales rose 9.5% from year ago. Growth was aided by strong demand in France (13.7%) and Germany (17%) and a 76.7% jump in Russia that lifted the country to the No.3 spot over Italy (-26.5%).

Brazil sales rebounded from a sluggish January that underperformed year-ago, with a 7.4% increase in volume, while South America overall was up 11%.

February brought year-to-date global sales to 12 million vehicles, a 9.5% jump that normally would point to annual volumes in excess of 80 million units.

However, these numbers, along with upcoming March results, reflect the state of the industry prior to the earthquake-related disasters in Japan that are threatening the global supply chain.

If vehicle production drops markedly in April and beyond, a decline in demand – due to low inventory and rising prices – could cost the industry several million units in sales over the remainder of the year.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com