Vehicle demand in the Asia/Pacific is rebounding so far this year, despite a downturn in China, the region’s dominant market.

Combined sales for the 12 countries tracked by WardsAuto have increased year-over-year for seven consecutive months through February, the latest month data is available for the entire Asia/Pacific region.

By month, sales were up 2.3% in January to 2.580 million and 2.7% in February to 2.924 million. The 2-month 2012 total of 5.505 million marks a 2.5% rise from year-ago.

Total deliveries in China for the first two months of 2012 were down 6.1% from like-2011 and have fallen in four of the five months through February. China’s market penetration in the region is 53.7% for 2012, compared with 58.6% year-ago, a drop indicative of the slowdown in general economic growth.

Gains in other countries, including Japan and India, the second- and third-largest markets in the region, respectively, are more than offsetting China’s decline.

In fact, both Japan and India already have reported increases for March and April, as have New Zealand and Pakistan. Australia reported an uptick for March, while South Korea declined for a third straight month in March.

Sales in Japan surged 36.1% year-over-year in January and 29.5% in February, before soaring 71.8% in March and 93.7% in April. Deliveries in Japan were up 53.9% in the first four months of 2012.

Japan’s huge gains mark a rebound from the hit the market took following the earthquake/tsunami that slammed the country in March 2011, and shut down a major portion of its production facilities.

Also sparking demand there are government subsidies given buyers of certain fuel-efficient vehicles. The program began with cars purchased at the end of December and is scheduled to run through next January.

Thus, Japan, which accounted for 17.0% of regional sales in January-February, should continue to see large gains throughout most of the year.

India, with 12.2% of region sales in the first two months of the year, posted increases of 10.0% in January and 16.5% in February. Including gains in March and April, year-to-date deliveries are up 14.0%.

India’s performance comes despite concerns interest rates and fuel prices could rise, plus excise taxes that already are driving up vehicle prices. Its 9.5% increase in April vehicle sales was its lowest monthly growth since posting a decline in October.

Other countries with year-to-date gains through February include Australia (5.2%), Indonesia (13.4%), New Zealand (14.0%), Pakistan (7.3%) and Thailand (14.5%).

Thailand’s market is coming back from flooding in the second half of last year that devastated its automotive market in the fourth quarter, when its sales declined 49.2%.

Besides China, January-February downturns included Malaysia (14.0%), Philippines (8.1%), South Korea (6.2%) and Taiwan (6.1%).

hstoddard@wardsauto.com