For the second time on record, global auto makers sold more than 8 million vehicles in a single month, delivering 8.19 million units in March.

The tally fell just 0.9% short of same-month year-ago’s record 8.26 million sales, according to WardsAuto data.

The strong result came despite downturns in most of the world’s largest markets, with China, the U.S. and the U.K. among the few bright spots.

China reported its best month ever, delivering 2.04 million vehicles, edging the previous record set in January of 2.03 million and improving on like-2012 by 11%.

China buoyed the Asia-Pacific to a 3.4% improvement over a good year-ago result, despite most of the region’s other markets posting year-over-year declines. Sales fell 11.3% in Japan and 10.3% in India, the region’s second- and third-largest markets, respectively.

Deliveries in South Korea slipped 0.3% to 131,000, leaving the country in the No.5 position behind Thailand, which led all markets with a 42.2% gain to 157,000 vehicles.

However, March, which marks the end of the fiscal year for most Asian auto makers, is a seasonally strong month in the Asia-Pacific, and the region’s 3.74 million-unit deliveries accounted for 45.6% of world sales. That’s up nearly a full share point from February and two points better than year-ago.

March also generally is a strong month in the U.S., where truck sales traditionally provide a seasonal bump. Auto makers sold 1.47 million cars and trucks, up 3% over year-ago.

Despite declines in Canada (-1.1%) and Mexico (-0.6%), which limited growth in North America to 2.3% for the month, the region took a 21% share of global sales, compared with 20.3% year-ago.

The slight gains in North America and the Asia-Pacific were countered by declines across the remaining regions.

In Europe, sales plunged 8.8% to 1.94 million units, equating to 23.7% of world volume, two share points fewer than year-ago.

The U.K.’s typical end-of-quarter surge, related to registration reporting requirements, led to a 6% increase to 444,000 deliveries. That vaulted the U.K. to the No. 1 position in Europe, ahead of Germany (down 17.2%) and Russia (down 3.7%), which had wrested the No.1 position from Germany the prior month.

Sales slid 15.1% in France and 14.6% in Spain, making Italy’s 5.3% year-over-year decline almost seem like good news. Aside from the U.K., only relatively small markets Denmark (+5%), Portugal (+1%), and Turkey (+4.4%) showed year-over-year gains in Europe.

South America sales slipped 2.3% from a strong year-ago to 463,000 units. Brazil fell 5.5% to 283,000, dropping it to the No.6 position worldwide.

Demand in politically transitioning Venezuela slumped 21%, although continued growth in Argentina (up 13.4%) and smaller markets ran counter to the regional downturn. South America’s 5.7% global sales take equaled its year-ago share.

March deliveries brought year-to-date worldwide sales to 21.1 million units, up 2.1% from like-2012.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com