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SYDNEY, Oct 7 (Reuters) - The last Australian-made six-cylinder Ford Falcon rolled off an assembly line on Friday, marking the end of Ford's 91-year history of car-making in a country that simultaneously fell out of love with big cars and manufacturing.
The end of operations - to be replicated by GM Holden and Toyota Australia next year - coincides with a move by the famed car company to close in Japan and Indonesia, where it sees "no reasonable path to profitability".
The impending death of car manufacturing in Australia has sparked heated debate over the future of the economy and the role of governments in propping up ailing sectors, after the governing centre-right coalition cut subsidies to the sector.
Dave Smith, national vehicle division secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, said on Friday the Ford workers "handled themselves with magnificent dignity" on their last day.
"There's been a lot of emotion and it's been close to coming to the surface at times," Smith told journalists at the Ford factory in the Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows.
"It's a shame for Australia because I think we lose so much when we no longer have vehicle manufacturing. But, you know, that's part of history now."
About 600 Ford workers are losing their jobs on Friday, all in the state of Victoria, where Ford's Australian operations are headquartered.
The decline of Australia's manufacturing industry - total employment in the sector dropped from 13.4 percent in 2005 to 7.8 percent last year - hasn't been helped by changing tastes as motorists turn against the locally made, big passenger cars Ford and Holden are traditionally known for, opting instead for overseas-made small cars and sports utilities.
Ford Australia chief executive Graeme Whickman said while it was a difficult day, it was an honour to see the last Falcon XR6 produced.
"The last cars which aren't saleable will be put on show for all Australians to come and see and enjoy, and that will be in museums and other such things around the country," Whickman told journalists outside the factor. ($1 = 1.3191 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook and Swati Pandey; Editing by Robert Birsel)