World vehicle sales rose 3.0% in April, for the lowest year-over-year growth rate since July 2009.

As in March, the decline in deliveries largely was attributable to disruption in the Japanese market caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

During the first full month of sales since the disaster, vehicle demand in Japan plunged 47.3%, compared with year-ago, and 57.6% behind prior-month volumes, as the population dealt with the aftermath of massive floods, fires, radiation leaks and widespread evacuation of coastal communities.

Japan’s 185,673 vehicle deliveries dropped the world’s third-largest car and truck market to the No.8 spot for April, the first month Japan placed lower than No.4 since at least January 2005.

Sales have been declining steadily in China after explosive growth at the end of 2009 and through first-half 2010 transformed the country into the world’s largest vehicle market. April deliveries dipped below year-ago for the second time in three months, slipping 0.6% to 1.55 million units.

In India, another double-digit growth market, April vehicle sales rose just 12.8%, the country’s lowest year-over-year result since June 2009.

Auto makers sold a combined 2.49 million vehicles across Asia/Pacific markets last month, accounting for 39.3% of world deliveries. April marked the first time the region’s monthly share dipped below 40% since August 2009, when the U.S. “Cash for Clunkers” program delivered a temporary spike to North America.

Conversely, North America earned its largest share since “Cash for Clunkers,” with April sales rising 16.2% to 1.4 million units, good for 22.2% of global sales. The region’s performance was bolstered by 18% growth in the U.S., accompanied by single-digit gains in Canada and Mexico.

Related document: World Vehicle Sales Summary

Germany was the No.1 auto market in Europe last month, with 292,845 vehicle deliveries, while Russia jumped to the No.2 spot in the region for the first time since August, with volume sales of 245,701.

With the Asia/Pacific markets falling in April, Brazil, up 4.3%, rose to the No.3 sales spot overall, behind China and the U.S. Continued double-digit growth in the region’s smaller markets, led by a 41.8% surge in Argentina, lifted South America deliveries 10.4%, compared with like-2010.

World vehicle sales through April stood at 26.24 million units, up 6.7% from year-ago.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com