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RPT-Ford to cut 300 jobs in Australia, spurs worries about earlier exit

SYDNEY, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co said on Thursday it would cut production in Australia by one third with about 300 jobs to go in June, spurring worries the carmaker may exit the country sooner than its planned 2016 deadline.

Last year, Ford announced plans to shut its two Australian plants in October 2016, blaming a strong currency and high costs that are hitting manufacturers.

The country's auto industry was hit by another blow in December when General Motors Co said it too would stop making cars in Australia by 2017, leaving Japan's Toyota Motor Co as the sole global automaker producing in Australia.

"We are continuing to match production with demand and that will mean we are reducing production by about a third in June with related job losses," company spokesman Wes Sherwood told reporters, citing lowering sales.

"We'll continue to work with the teams to get into the exact details but it will be about 300," he added.

Ford, which started making cars in Geelong, Victoria in 1925, currently produces 133 Falcon and Territory cars per day and will reduce that to around 80 in June.

The decision raised concerns that the company might speed up its shutdown process sooner than planned.

"I personally would not be surprised if we see a quicker slowdown or reduction than was first envisaged," Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce executive director David Purchase told local media.

Sherwood said Ford intended to produce through October 2016, but would "re-evaluate" the plan if there were major disruptions.

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