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What a difference a year makes. It was June of 2009 when the once mighty General Motors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Now, a little more than 365 days later, the company continues to take steps forward in an effort to recapture some of the glory days. Indeed, we appear to be moving closer to an initial public offering of the new and improved GM shares. And, in its latest initiative, the car company has gotten back into the financing game.

Indeed, the auto maker has purchased subprime lender AmeriCredit (ACF) for $3.5 billion. Texas-based AmeriCredit’s core business is financing for customers unable to access funds elsewhere (i.e., banks, credit unions, etc.). GM and the lender had already begun a relationship in 2009, with the Detroit company’s incentives funding some subprime loans.

The all-cash acquisition, though, provides GM with a full-fledged financing unit able to target what had recently been unreachable customers. The ability to access drivers with subprime credit is something the company lacked over the last few years, leaving it at quite a disadvantage to competitors like Toyota Motor (TM) and Ford Motor (F), which had their own captive financing units.

In its heyday, GM had GMAC. By 2007, however, the two had distanced themselves from each other, with GM selling its stake, amid a bevy of capital concerns. GMAC faced significant obstacles within its home mortgage loan segment. Making matters worse, as the car maker’s bond quality continued to deteriorate, GMAC’s cost of raising capital soared even higher. In fact, the financing group’s troubles with subprime lending and auto financing went so far as to require its own sizable government bailout, to the tune of $17 billion.

As a result of the mounting challenges, in the time leading up to the aforementioned debacle, GMAC closed its doors to many potential car buyers. And without this necessary financing, GM was unable to keep pace with the rest of the auto field, likely expediting its downfall.

Fast forward to 2010. GM has worked through bankruptcy, shedding assets, consolidating brands, and trimming some of its debilitating legacy costs. Adding a financing division, enabling it to access the subprime community, seemed to jump to the top of the company’s “To Do” list.

In fact, at the start of the summer, it had considered a move to reacquire GMAC, which is now known as Ally Financial. But that idea appeared to fade quickly, as Ally did not seem ready to reopen the lending channels to customers lacking good credit.

Ally is still a big part of the GM network. Indeed, despite the AmeriCredit purchase, Ally will still provide the bulk of the loans to creditworthy drivers and dealers.

That said, although GM indicated sales from the AmeriCredit business will probably not top 10% of its annual total, it appears having its own captive finance business may well prove crucial to GM’s success story. Indeed, the addition of ACF opens the door to a vast segment of the market that had been closed to GM, of late. Currently, only 7% of GM’s total sales are generated through leasing deals. This compares with the industry average of over 20%. And although GM’s sales were up year over year in the first half of 2010, it did not match the advance of counterparts such as Ford.

The auto maker believes it lost significant sales opportunities, without being able to offer subprime buyers financing options. In fact, GM signaled that 40% of domestic customers have credit scores that would fall into this category.

This is probably just a part of what GM’s captive financing division will eventually look like, as the company is still in talks with multiple banks in an effort to add loan channels in the future. It had previously held discussions with some of the bigger banks, such as JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Free Analyst Report) and Wells Fargo (WFC), though nothing concrete developed.

Not everyone is likely onboard the AmeriCredit transaction. After all, we are talking about a company that was bankrupt not long ago, surviving largely thanks to a monumental tax-payer funded bailout. And now it has made a $3.5 billion purchase so it can offer loans to customers labeled “uncreditworthy” by many. For some, this may be a rather tough pill to swallow.

The car maker did notify the U.S. Treasury (which still owns a majority stake) of the deal, though approval was unnecessary. At this juncture, the government still intends on relinquishing some, if not all, of its GM position when the stock re-IPOs.

If AmeriCredit can help spur sales growth, it just may help GM move one step closer to making this a reality with a return to the publicly traded market.