Honda is understandably fussy about what goes on, and into, its American-built cars.

So much so that it has invited one of Japan's leading makers of automotive glass to the United States to become a major supplier of Honda's Marysville, Ohio, plant.

The move by the Asahi Glass Co. to Bellefountaine, Ohio, is part of the third wave of Japanese commerce to roll into the United States.

First came the imports. Then, in recent years, an increasing number of major Japanese manufacturers built facilities in this country, in part out of fear that the success of their imports might provoke trade barriers.

Now, the Japanese manufacturing presence has become strong enough to entice their traditional suppliers, such as Asahi, to establish their own manufacturing operations in this country.

"You're seeing the beginning of a big trend" of investment by automotive suppliers, said James Mateyka, vice president of Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc., who follows the automobile industry.

He predicts that more and more Japanese-based suppliers will gain a U.S. foothold by producing glass, seats and other components for the Japanese auto makers in this country.

And from there, the suppliers will soon be calling on General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

The policy question is whether this new wave of Japanese investment represents an extention of the fabled "Japan Inc." network, or a normal evolution of global competition?

Put another way, has Honda given Asahi a preferential helping hand into the rich American market at the expense of existing U.S. automotive-glass manufacturers, or is it an arm's-length deal that rewards Asahi's skill and quality as a glass maker?

Initially, Honda turned to a North American glass supplier to equip the Hondas that began rolling out of the Marysville plant in November 1982.

The manufacturer was a Canadian subsidiary of PPG Industries Inc.

Based in Pittsburgh, the century-old PPG is one of America's industrial giants, the world's largest manufacturer of flat glass and a leading international supplier for the automobile industry.

Last year, however, Honda asked Asahi -- a long-time supplier for its Japanese-built cars -- to enter the picture. In November, Asahi and PPG announced an agreement on a joint venture to make automotive glass for Honda's Marysville plant.

PPG is the minority partner in both the glass production plant and a second venture to attach insulation and other hardware to prepare windows for installation.

"Honda approached Asahi to come to the United States," a PPG spokesman said.

From PPG standpoint, that invitation might be edged in black. The Japanese car industry is expanding rapidly in this country.

There were no U.S.-built Japanese cars until the Honda plant opened in November 1982. By 1990, there will be 1 million to 1 1/2 million, predicts Mateyka.

"That gives the traditional Japanese supplier more and more of an incentive to locate production here," he said.

"If I were a U.S. builder with an old plant and a historic relationship with GM, Ford or Chrysler, and I saw a Japanese company coming in, I'd get real nervous. I'd know the next sales call is to my customers," he said.

"If you have a new plant, with the technology of 1985, you're going to be a lower-cost producer than the guy who built the plant in 1975," Mateyka added.

Honda says the decision to turn to Asahi was based, fundamentally, on quality.

"We've encountered continuous quality problems with that particular item," said Darrell Shown, Honda's purchasing manager in Marysville.

"Taking nothing away from our current supplier [PPG's Canadian plant], they have tried diligently . . . but they aren't up to the standards" met by Asahi, Shown said.

The Honda Accords that come out of Marysville are sold east of the Mississippi. Those sold in the western United States are imported from Japan, and Honda's Marysville plant can't tolerate a poorer quality in the U.S.-built versions, said Shown.

"We must manufacture an identical automobile," he said.

Rather than cut PPG off, however, Honda will continue to buy some glass from the Canadian subsidiary for U.S. and Canadian production. And Shown said the partnership between PPG and Asahi will help close the technological gap he detects between the two. "You marry them with a Japanese producer and you have the best of both worlds."

Mateyka says he thinks its "less a case of Japan Inc." than an evolution of competition. "Asahi is a traditional supplier whom Honda trusts."

It is as natural for Honda to turn to Asahi as it would be for Ford to use Bendix auto parts in Brazil, he said.

But there is little question that the presence of a strong, growing Japanese auto manufacturing industry inside the United States dramatically reduces the risk for Japanese parts producers who want to build plants here.

And since risk has a price, the Japanese network lowers the start-up costs for the Japanese parts producers, easing their way into the American market.

The trend means more jobs in the American plants of the Japanese suppliers, more competition in the supply of parts for the auto industry -- and more trouble for old-line producers such as PPG.