Officials at Ford said the company saw a lot of benefit from Taurus' long reign as the top passenger car. But because the company spent much of 1997 reorganizing its lineup, it made a deliberate decision not to subsidize Taurus sales, said George Pipas, sales analysis manager for the Dearborn, Mich., car maker.
"Chasing the best-selling car title was getting in the way" of more pressing concerns, he said.
Honda officials said they would have been happier to come in first and suggested that Toyota's discounted fleet sales helped put it over the top.
"We gave it our best shot and came up a little short," said Honda division spokesman Art Garner. "When the numbers came in, we felt like we couldn't have done any better."
In all, Toyota sold 1.2 million cars and trucks in the U.S. last year, a 6.4% gain that kept it firmly ensconced as the top import car maker. Honda on Wednesday said it sold 940,383 cars and trucks, an 11.8% gain. General Motors Corp., the last of the domestic car makers to report sales, said it moved 4.7 million vehicles--almost a third of total U.S. sales of 15.2 million cars and trucks.