Rising sales in its Eastern and Central regions may soon see Europe emerge as the world’s largest car market, surpassing the U.S. possibly by the end of the year. The U.S. has traditionally led Europe by a wide margin but sales numbers so far this year differ by only several thousand units.

Sales for the first ten months of the year stood at 13,583,559 for the U.S. and 13,572,669 for Europe, according to Automotive News. Compare this with last year, where sales in the U.S. topped out at 15,599,970, a lead of 740,000 over Europe.

The numbers reflect strong sales in the U.K. and Italy, Europe’s two biggest markets, as well as increased demand in Eastern and Central Europe. At the same time, demand in the U.S. has fallen significantly as the result of rising fuel costs and a credit crisis.

Analysts are expecting sales to reach roughly 16 million units for both markets by the end of the year and Europe to be the clear leader in 2008.