Auto makers sold 6.8 million vehicles worldwide in December, a 1% gain over like-2010 that boosted full-year deliveries 4% to 77.7 million.

The growth trend was negative throughout as monthly increases fell from an average of 10.7% in the first quarter to 1.5% in the final quarter.

North America set the tone with a 9.8% sales jump for the year. The market saw 15.6 million deliveries, which accounted for 20.1% of global vehicle sales, up from its 19% share in 2010.

The U.S. continued its moderately paced recovery, finishing the year as the second-largest vehicle market behind China, with sales of 13 million vehicles. The American market’s 10.8% sales hike was second only to Russia’s among the world’s 10 largest vehicle markets.

The U.S. accounted for 16.8% of worldwide sales, up from 15.8% in 2010. Mexico deliveries climbed 10.4% to 935,000 units, while Canada lagged with a 2.3% uptick to 1.62 million.

Sales in the Asia/Pacific region, hampered by large-scale natural disasters in Japan and Thailand, were barely in the black, up just 0.1% compared with prior-year.

By December, Japan, the world’s third-largest market, had begun to recover from the March tsunami and earthquake that restricted sales and production there in the second quarter. The country’s vehicle sales fell 15.1% for the year to 4.2 million units.

China saw its growth slow dramatically from the breakneck pace of the prior two years.  Vehicle deliveries rose just 2.6% to 18.5 million units, good for 23.8% of the global market but down from 2010’s 24.2%.

Sales slowed also in Brazil which like China had seen rapid acceleration in recent years. Vehicle deliveries increased rose 3.4%, but smaller South America markets such as Argentina and Chile saw deliveries soar 26.5% and 17.4%, respectively.

Their performances helped spur the region’s overall growth to 7.7% while also claiming 7.4% of the world market.

Vehicle sales increased 4.6% in Europe to 20.2 million units, but results within the region varied widely. Russia climbed from the No.5 spot to No.3 in the region with deliveries surging 38.3% to 2.8 million vehicles.

Sales in Germany, the region’s top market, climbed 9.7%, compared with like 2010.

However, deliveries slumped in each of the region’s other top markets: France (-1%); the U.K. (-1.9%); and Italy (-10.4%). European countries accounted for 26% of all vehicle sales in 2011.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com