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Toyota cutting 350 jobs in Australia

Robots weld the bodyshell of a Toyota Camry Hybrid car on the assembly line at the Toyota plant in Melbourne
Robots weld the bodyshell of a Toyota Camry Hybrid car on the assembly line at the Toyota plant in Melbourne

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> is cutting 350 jobs at its Australian manufacturing operations due to an ongoing downturn in production levels, a rare move from the Japanese auto giant.

Toyota Australia president Max Yasuda said the strength of the Australian dollar, which has traded at record highs above parity with the US dollar over the past year, was party to blame for the move.

Toyota, which employs around 4,700 people in Australia, had seen vehicle production drop 36 percent in four years, from 149,000 in 2007 to an expected 95,000 in 2012.

"The reality is that our volumes are down. What we assumed was a temporary circumstance has turned into a permanent situation," Yasuda said in a statement.

Australia's three car manufacturers, Toyota Australia, Ford's Australian division, and Holden, a division of GM , made 242,941 vehicles in 2010, exporting 94,000 vehicles. The industry employs about 50,000 people.

Despite hefty government subsidies and tariff support worth around A$2.5 billion ($2.4 billion) a year, the industry has struggled to maintain manufacturing jobs, with the Australian arm of Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Corporation closing its car plants in 2008.

Australia's Manufacturing Minister Kim Carr said the latest job losses were caused by the strong dollar and global uncertainty.

"Ultimately, companies have to take tough decisions based on commercial realities to ensure that their business model remains sustainable, and that is what Toyota has done today," Carr said in a statement.

(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Kim Coghill)