Gerald C. Meyers, chairman of American Motors Corp., said yesterday he opposes imposition of quotas on autos imported from Japan to protect the American automobile industry.

Meyers put AMC squarely on the side of open world trade in autos, hardly a surprising stance considering AMC's alliance with Renault, the French auto manufacturer that now owns a controlling interest in AMC.

The AMC president was in Washington yesterday to show off the first product of that alliance, the new Renault 18i compact sport sedans and wagons that will be sold by AMC's U.S. dealers alongside AMC's line of standard models, four-wheel-drive vehicles and Jeeps and the Renault sub-compact Le Car.

Although Meyers offered no forecasts on AMC's sales and profits in the year ahead, he said he is "pretty optimistic" about the company's prospects. The Renault connection gives AMC entries in this year's crucial battles in the subcompact and compact markets, shoring up the AMC four-wheel-drive line that was hurt badly this year as customers turned increasingly to small, high-mileage cars.

Meyers predicted Renault would account for between 20 percent and 25 percent of AMC's sales this year.

He was less optimistic about the outlook for the U.S. auto producers generally, saying that the recovery from the 1980 recession is likely to be slow and stretched out. "It's not altogether clear that this will be a boom year," he said.

Meyers said he agreed with other industry leaders that the next few years will be critical for American auto producers, who will suffer permanent damage if the impact of imports is not reduced. "We should not allow this to happen," he added.

But beyond opposing mandatory import quotas, he refused to be drawn into a discussion of how to deal with the import controversy. "Some remedy should be applied," he said, but added that it should fit the extent of the damage to U.S. automakers that is caused by foreign autos. He said that question is best left to the International Trade Commission, the U.S. agency that is investigating complaints against Japanese automakers lodged by the United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Co.

He said the American companies that can produce small, efficient cars should be in a "dream situation" in the next few years, able to sell everything they make.

The 18i Renault sedan comes with a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive engine.