) -- As


(GM) - Get Report

touted its commitment to China in a Beijing media briefing, a new J.D. Power forecast said global auto sales will likely set a new record this year.

The consulting firm said it expects global light vehicle sales of 76.5 million units in 2011, 6% higher than the existing record of 72 million light vehicles sold in 2010.

The report is one more sign that the world's primary manufacturing industry is poised for continuing gains during the current year.

"Overall growth in the world economy has been supporting further recovery in auto sales," said John Humphrey, senior vice president of automotive operations at J.D. Power, in a prepared statement. "We're seeing signals of stability and increased consumer demand for new vehicles as economic optimism increases."

During 2010, sales growth occurred in North America, South America and Asia, where growth in China was key. Western Europe was a notable exception, as sales suffered due to the expiration of government-sponsored vehicle scrappage programs.

U.S. sales rose 11% to 11.6 million. European sales were flat at 18.2 million units, while western European sales declined 4%. China sales rose about 30% to 17.2 million while Indian sales rose about 30% to 2.7 million, J.D. Power said.

In statements Tuesday,


(F) - Get Report

and GM both touted successes in regions where they are historically strong..

Ford said that January sales in 51 European markets were stable at 114,100 units, up by 100 units, with strong sales in Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey offsetting a 5.2% decline in 19 traditional Western Europe markets. Ford reported an 8.2% passenger car share in Europe in January, down 0.2% from a year earlier, while total vehicle share was 8.3%, down 0.5%.

Meanwhile, GM CEO Dan Akerson told reporters in Beijing that GM will continue to invest aggressively in China, where it remained the sales leader in 2010, when the company and its affiliates sold a record 2.35 million vehicles.

"GM will continue to make China one of our priorities," said Akerson. "We plan to introduce more than 20 new and upgraded models over the next two years."

J.D. Power noted that emerging markets accounted for 51% of global light vehicle sales in 2010, the first time emerging markets account for more than one half of sales.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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