The federal government released its 1980 automobile fuel economy ratings yesterday, and -- surprise -- financially troubled Chrysler Corp. was the only domestic auto maker represented in the top 10.

But there was a catch: the four Chrysler models in the top 10 were all made in Japan.

The five-speed and four-speed manual transmission diesel-powered Volkswagen Rabbit models were first and second in the Environmental Protection Agency's annual listings for the second straight year, with ratings of 42 and 40 miles per gallon respectively. The five-speed model showed a 1 mpg improvement over last year. (List of mileage ratings on Page D1.)

Chrysler may lose about $1 billion this year and has appealed to the government for aid. Critics blame Chrysler's difficulties in part on what they view as the company's overproduction of large, gas-guzzling cars, an accusation Chrysler executives deny.

The subcompacts Dodge Colt and Plymouth Champ, both Chrysler models, with four-speed manual transmissions were tied for third with a 37 mpg ranking. Both cars are built for Chrysler in Japan by Mitsubishi Co. They were the top ranking gasoline-powered autos on the EPA list.

Tied for fifth place were two diesel-powered Volkswagen Dasher models and a gasoline-powered Honda Civic with a five-speed transmission. All three are rated at 36 mpg.

After that came another three-way tie between a four-speed transmission Honda Civic, and other models of the Dodge Colt and Plymouth Champ with slightly different four-speed transmissions. They all achieved 35 mpg.

The highest-ranking car made in the United States was the Chevrolet Chevette subcompact with a four speed transmission that had a 26 mpg rating. It was well down on the list.

The second best domestic model was an automatic-transmission version of the Chevette, which had a 25 mpg rating. Several others followed at 24 mpg.

At the bottom of the list uere two Rolls Royce models that get 10 mpg. Several U.S. cars were tied for the next worst slot with 14 mpg.

The EPA estimated that annual fuel costs for owners of the top-ranked Rabbit would be $286, assuming the car is driven 15,000 miles a year with diesel fuel costing 80 cents a gallon. The top-ranked Chrysler imports would cost $364 a year for fuel based on a gasoline cost of 90 cents a gallon.

The EPA said its estimated mileage figures are useful for comparison purposes only, and should not be seen as a guide to the mileage drivers should expect to get with their new cars. The EPA said its tests are conducted by professional drivers in laboratory conditions.

At the same time, EPA officials predicted that all car makers would achieve the government-set mandatory goal of 20 mpg average for all passenger car production by 1980. That goal will increase each year until it reaches 27.5 mpg in 1985.

The various mileage figures quoted above are for cars sold in all states except California. Because of tougher state air pollution laws, cars sold there had generally lower mileage ratings.

The EPA said about 25 percent of the 1980 cars were unavailable for testing, but would be tested in time to be included in a final list released early next year. That list will be made available in booklet form to the public, a spokesman said.