Declining light vehicle sales in North America and Europe caused the global sales rate to dip in January to its lowest level since last September's terrorist attacks, according to an automotive forecast by J.D. Power-LMC.

The seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) of global light-vehicle sales during January is estimated to be 55.6 million units.

Charles Young, director of research for J.D. Power-LMC in Oxford, England, said two countries contributed to the slackening of demand in Europe. January light-vehicle sales in the United Kingdom, while still strong, were not at the unusually high levels of late 2001.

"Italian sales also suffered a hangover from heavy marketing efforts in December," Young said.

Sales in Spain and France remained strong in January, while German sales, which had been persistently weak for almost two years, showed a modest improvement after a very weak conclusion to 2001.

"There were some bright spots in January," Young said. "Sales in Canada were very strong. We also saw strong sales in Korea due to strong consumer spending and to tax changes that favour vehicle purchases."

Canada's January sales were up 14.4 percent compared to a year ago, while Korea's sales increased 48.5 percent.

Sales in the United States were strong in the first week of 2002, then dipped for the remaining three weeks of January, but still finished at a 15.8 million-unit SAAR. U.S. sales were down 5.3 percent from a year ago.

"We expect incentive programmes will keep U.S. consumers heading to dealerships at a pretty steady pace," said Dr. Robert Schnorbus, chief economist for J.D. Power-LMC in Troy, Michigan.

"We still anticipate U.S. sales to come in around 15.6 million units for the year as a whole. "That's still a very respectable sales number, following three of the top four sales years in history."

In South America, Mercosur sales remained stable in January, despite an almost complete collapse of Argentine sales.

"This is a direct reflection of the strength of demand in Brazil in the wake of Argentina's problems," Schnorbus said.