The last automobile manufactured in New Jersey rolled off the assembly line to little fanfare on Wednesday, in what the Associated Press (AP) described as a quiet but momentous end to an industry that once employed thousands of workers and helped fuel the state's economy.

After operating for 68 years, during which it produced nearly nine million vehicles and manufactured fighter planes during World War II, the General Motors plant in Linden produced its final sport utility vehicle, a white Chevy Blazer, AP said.

The GM plant and the Ford plant in nearby Edison, which closed in late February, were the last two auto assembly lines in New Jersey, according to the report.

AP said declining sales of the Blazer and GMC Jimmy led the company to end production of the two SUVs that had been assembled at the plant since 1993 - the plant had cut back from two shifts to one in 2002, causing about 1,000 layoffs and the 1,000 remaining workers learned last year that the plant would be ending production in early 2005.

In its heyday, the plant produced Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs. During World War II, it was re-engineered to produce Grumman Wildcat fighter planes before resuming automobile production in 1946, the Associated Press said.

Ford operated several plants in New Jersey at various times in the last century, and there were more than 13,000 jobs in auto manufacturing in New Jersey as recently as 1990, AP said, citing  James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

The news agency noted that many working in Linden were hired in the mid-1970s and those with 30 years of employment by the time the union contract ends in 2007 will qualify for full retirement benefits.