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Wheels pulped over Toyota story

Phil Scott of ACP says 'Wheels has never been afraid to publish stories that attack car companies and their products'.

The story was planned in the wake of the global safety recalls involving the Japanese brand and a crash during Car of the Year testing in 2008 when a Toyota Kluger driven by Wheels editor Ged Bulmer ended up on its roof at the Holden proving ground at Lang Lang.

The article was written by freelancer Glenn Butler and included in the original version of the magazine.

But Phil Scott, group publisher of Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) in Sydney, ordered the trashing and re-printing of the magazine without the story. Scott says he made the decision after legal advice about the story and its potential damage to ACP and the Wheels brand. He defends the move and says Wheels has never been afraid to publish stories that attack car companies and their products.

"We had to make a commercial decision whether to hit the streets or not with contentious material," Scott tells Carsguide. He says there was an "unacceptably high risk" and that it was "the prudent thing to do".

But ACP insiders, who saw the story at several stages before the original printing of the magazine, believe there was nothing contentious in the story and say that it was cleared by ACP legal advisors. The crisis developed while editor Bulmer was in Scotland attending a press event with the Bentley car company and he has since declined to comment on any of the issues. But Scott says, without naming anyone involved, that there were disciplinary moves following the incident.

Wheels has had a chequered history with Toyota, including several heated exchanges between the magazine's management and company chiefs, including former car czar John Conomos. Toyota accused Wheels several times of bias against its vehicles during Car of the Year judging and asked for explanations of why crucial new models - including the locallly-made Camry - were not featured on the front cover. After Wheels published a story on the Kluger COTY incident, the company withdrew its advertising.

Scott is a former editor of Wheels who now heads a large division of ACP, including responsibility for its lucrative top selling womens' magazines including Womans Weekly, Cleo and Cosmopolitan and other motoring publications Top Gear, Motor and Auto Action. He reacts angrily to suggestions that the decision to reprint Wheels was made for commercial reasons.

"We're not called ACP brochures. The franchise rests on expert, balanced opinion," he says. He also denies any pressure from Toyota. "I will say categorically that no correspondence or communciation of any sort was made with a car company." Scott refuses to reveal the cost of the move, believed to be a first in the history of Wheels. "None of your business. We haven't missed our on-sale date," he says.

Even when the magazine was hit with a legal attack by Holden over potential publication of sensitive details of an upcoming link with Nissan in the 1980s, only one section of the magazine had to be reprinted to comply with legal requirements.