TOKYO (AP) _ Japan's vehicle exports fell 8.6 percent in May from a year earlier, dragged down by weak sales in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. But exports to the United States rose 19.7 percent.

The drop to 308,661 vehicles was the fourth straight monthly decline, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association reported Monday.

Japan's top three automakers; Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. all suffered export declines for the month with Nissan posting the largest loss.

Despite the overall decline, exports to the United States _ Japanese carmakers' biggest market _ remained strong, jumping to 108,598 vehicles in the ninth consecutive increase.

Shipments to crisis-hit Asia rose for the second time in 19 months as many of the economies appeared to be recovering. Exports to Asia rose 8.2 percent to 23,203 vehicles.

But exports to the Middle East and Latin America fell sharply because of economic problems in those regions, the association said.

Exports to Middle Eastern countries plunged 33.2 percent to 16,358 vehicles, reflecting sluggish demand in the wake of lower crude oil prices, the association said.

Exports to Latin America tumbled 54.8 percent to 17,913 automobiles.

Japanese manufacturers also reduced exports to the European Union last month _ by 8.5 percent to 80,929 vehicles _ to stem growing inventories of cars in their second biggest market, the association said.

The May drop in exports followed an 11.1 percent year-to-year drop in April and a 1.9 percent fall in March.

Ten of the 11 companies covered by the survey suffered export declines for May. Only Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru cars, posted an increase in exports, up 29.8 percent to 16,075 vehicles.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. suffered the biggest decline in exports for the month, a drop of 38.0 percent to 23,709 vehicles.

Among the top three makers, Toyota's exports fell 2.1 percent to 113,407 vehicles, Nissan's exports sank 11.3 percent to 41,331, and exports for Honda dropped 8.4 percent to 36,956.