Global auto makers sold 6.48 million passenger and commercial vehicles in February, marking an 11.2% gain on like-2011 that returned the world market to the positive side after January’s weak results broke a 31-month string of uninterrupted year-over-year growth.

But the upswing in deliveries owed more to an anomaly in the Chinese calendar than to the true health of the industry. China’s vehicle sales surged more than 25% last month as a result of the country’s weeklong New Year holiday, which typically falls in February and brings auto sales to a halt, being celebrated in January this year.

Vehicle deliveries there tumbled 26.6% in January, with one less week of selling days compared with year-ago due to the holiday, but rebounded in February to make up nearly all of prior-month’s loss.

A clearer picture of the world’s largest vehicle market can be gleaned from data that shows sales were down 4.9% in the year’s first two months compared with like-2011.

However, other big players in the Asia/Pacific region provided signs for optimism. Japan, the No.3 global auto market, saw vehicle sales surge 29.6% in February and tracked 32.4% ahead of year-ago in the first two months.

Growth likely will continue at a strong pace in coming months as Japan’s vehicle deliveries are compared with year-ago, when a portion of the country was devastated by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in March.

South Korea sales rose 7.7% in February, but it was Indonesia, up 51%, and Thailand, up 37.6%, whose extraordinary growth helped push the region to a 25.3% gain, compared with year-ago, and up 6.3% for the first two months.

As a result, Asia/Pacific through February accounted for 46.5% of vehicle sales worldwide, the region’s highest market share since January 2011.

North America was the only major market to register double-digit growth in the year’s first two months.

U.S. sales climbed 15.8% in February, which combined with Canada and Mexico’s 11.0%-plus increases to give the region a 15.2% gain for the month and a 21% share of global vehicle sales.

In contrast to overall world deliveries, which saw a 2.5% uptick in the first two months, North America was up 14%. Growing consumer confidence, improvement in employment numbers and production buildups across the region all signaled that early growth likely would continue through the second quarter.

Europe’s vehicle deliveries fell for the second consecutive month in February, down 6.3%, accounting for 21.2% of the global market.

Sales tumbled in four of the region’s five largest markets. Germany, France, Italy and the U.K. all saw declines, compared with prior-year, as Europe continued to struggle through its stalled economic recovery.

Russia was the region’s second-largest market last month, with vehicle sales soaring 24.5%, marking the 23rd straight month of growth.

South America accounted for 6.2% of worldwide vehicle sales in February, a full share point lower than like-2011.

Brazil’s 9.6% hike in January vehicle deliveries was countered in February with a 9% decline that dragged the overall region down 4%, compared with year-ago, despite Argentina’s 13.1% increase and Venezuela’s 20% gain.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com