TOKYO - Arguing that Japanese automakers started slowly when they entered the U.S. market, Saturn President Donald W. Hudler says he's not concerned about Saturn's tepid pace in Japan.

During its first six months on the Japanese market (April 5 through Sept. 5), the General Motors Corp. subsidiary sold 405 cars here. "Toyota sold just 288 vehicles its first year in the U.S. and Honda less than 500," says Mr. Hudler.

"We're not going after big numbers; we're concentrating on brand loyalty and customer satisfaction," the same things that have made Saturn popular in the U.S.

Saturn will have 15 stand-alone outlets in Japan by year end and 20 by the end of 1998, says Mr. Hudler. "There are more Toyota stores on one street in Tokyo than I have in all of Japan," he muses. "The market is so big and our job is so big that we're not setting any sales targets; that would just be someone's best guess." The market is also tough. "It's cutthroat - existing dealers are killing each other," he says.

Although it's considered a high-mileage car in the U.S., by Japanese standards Saturn "is in the middle of the pack" as it relates to home-market competition, he says, citing the Nissan Sylvia 240 and Acura Integra as two chief competitors.

Who's buying Saturns in the early going? Saturn studies indicate a young clientele: The average male buyer is 41, the average female 36, and the split is 85/15 male/female, mirroring the Japanese market in general. "Some 92% say they love their cars, are very satisfied and would recommend a Saturn to a friend or relative," he says.