DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Congratulations, America: You just bought a subprime lender.General Motors -- whose primary shareholder is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and stands as a proxy for more than 300 million local investors -- must've felt it was time to balance out all that goodwill it amassed after shedding failing lines and creating sought-after products like the Chevrolet Volt and Cruze by showing it learned absolutely nothing from its bailout. By announcing its intent to purchase AmeriCredit ( ACF) for roughly $3.5 billion, or $24.50 a share, in the fourth quarter for the expressed purpose of expanding its leasing practices and snaring low-income buyers, GM's selective amnesia not only glossed over subprime lending's role in the world's current economic uncertainty, but put its potential domestic buyer base on the hook for another ill-conceived financing scheme. Those who've used the title "Government Motors" more than once to describe GM since late 2008 remember that GM's original financing arm, GMAC (now Ally Financial ( GJM), which nearly trumps Altria and Xfinity as sin-shrouding alibis), was a Pontiac Bonneville-sized weight around the company's neck when the two split in 2008. With nearly $173 billion in debt, GMAC became a bank holding company so it could take $5 billion in TARP funds, coax the Treasury to give GM money to buy GMAC stock and then take another $7.5 billion in government proceeds last year, which gave the Treasury a 56% stake in the company. Sadly, GM needs AmeriCredit more than the lender needs it. If GM ever wants to control its revenue, have an IPO and make people stop equating it with that pesky MTLQQ ticker from the desiccated corpse of its previous incarnation, shoring up the lease numbers is a step in the right direction. Right now, 21% of the auto industry's sales come from leases. For GM, that number is closer to 7%. If GM can get some of the people with sub-620 credit scores to look its way instead of buying a used car -- whose sales are up 5.3% from a year ago, according to the Manheim Used Vehicle Index -- the AmeriCredit purchase could lead to a windfall.
Meanwhile, AmeriCredit's stock shot up 600% since the Lehman Brothers collapse, distancing AmeriCredit from its subprime siblings in the mortgage market. AmeriCredit played it safe, charging APRs between 15% and 20% to shield itself from defaults and cutting its losses through repossessions and sales in the secondary market. At this point, AmeriCredit seems to know more about running a successful automotive franchise than the company buying it. When the GMAC fallout is combined with the Treasury's $57.6 billion bailout/takeover of GM -- which it now holds a 61% stake in -- Americans have invested $70 million just to keep GM, (at least some of) its brands and its failed finance company afloat. But, hey, GM's totally paid off, like, 10% of that figure, so why not throw some money around? Who cares if the AmeriCredit purchase erases half of the total it repaid the government or if the purchase price represents a 25% premium? It's not their money. -- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.