Chevrolet took heavy aim at the Japanese domination of the U.S. subcompact car market, trimming the price slightly on its 1978-model Chevettes nationally, enriching the interior and making standard previously extra-cost options such as the AM radio and white-wall tires. For seven West Coast states from Washington to Nevada, including California, the price was reduced evenmore, by what Chevrolet termed $400, or 11 per cent.

The base price on the upgraded standard Chevette will be $3,354 for the two-door and $3,464 for the four-door. The lowest-priced Chevette, the Scooter, will have a suggested retail price of $2,999.

In the seven Western states, the two-door will sell for $3,236 and the four-door for $3,346. Chevrolet has 565 of its 6,000 dealers in those states.

Also falling for 1978 is the car's mileage as tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. The 43 miles per gallon of the highway test was a specific number for the smaller engines with a manual transmission. For 1978 models, the Chevettes will have a general EPA label showing 40 mpg for the highway test which includes the results from Chevette equipped with an automatic transmission and the heavier four-door models.

"Our standard, two-door Chevette price of $3,354 compares to the current price of $3,449 for the Datsun B210 deluxe two-door sedan, $3,478 for the Toyota Corolla two-door deluxe model and $3,499 for the Honda CVCC hatchback," Robert D. Lund, Chevrolet general manager, said.

The Chevette price "is also $326 below the Ford Fiesta and $395 below the VW Rabbit, both German imports," he said.

Imported cars represent about 40 per cent of sales in the seven Western states, and about 80 per cent of subcompact sales. Subcompacts generally are defined as cars that weigh less than 2,000 pounds and are neither luxury nor sportscars.

The intention of the price cuts is to "dispel three myths," Lund said. Those are that imported cars cost less, are of higher quality, and get better mileage than American-made subcompacts - of which there is just one, the Chevrolet Chevette.

The price-cutting move, coming when prices are generally moving up 5 to 7 per cent for 1978 models, may to some degree be a readjustment from what happened in the auto industry in the months following the Arab oil embargo. Back then, with bigger cars a drug on the market and smaller ones in short supply, the price increases fell disproportionately on the smaller vehicles.

According to assistant general sales manager Robert Sullivan, Chevrolet is making several other unusual efforts to boost its small-car business. Those include test programs where a Chevrolet dealer has two showrooms, with one devoted strictly to small cars and sometimes with salesmen who sell nothing but small cars.

Consideration even is being given to changing the way salesmen are paid since the traditional slice of the gross buyer's dollar is a built-in incentive for the salesmen to try to move any buyer up to a bigger and more expensive vehicles, Sullivan said.

The debut of the new 1978-model Chevrolets here at the General Motors proving ground was a curious one. Never in recent memory has less attention been paid at a similar event - always annual and sometimes with special mid-year introductions - to what was new.

The new models got short shrift indeed. Little mention was made of the downsized Chevrolet Chevelle, renamed the Malibu for 1978. The advent of the first Chevrolet V-6 engine even got scant mention by the Chevrolet executives.

The new Chevrolet C-10 diesel engine pickup truck was barely noticed.

And at a time when Wall Street's auto analyst and assorted economic prognosticators are expecting a flat or even perhaps down year for the U.S. auto industry, Lund held firmly to GM's previously announced optimism. He said a 1977 model year now ending will see another record for Chevrolet's performance for total vehicles will be very close to the 1973 record. "Our model-year projection for 1978 will see 1973 records fall by the wayside," Lund said.

He said the 1978 Chevrolet fleet probably will test out at 19.1 or 19.2 miles per gallon, or roughly half a mile per gallon above the 18.7 mpg minimum target the corporation assigned the division.