GM Financial, of Fort Worth, Texas, reported to investors it has $600 million in financing lined up to originate leases.
GM announced plans to use GM Financial as a source for prime-risk leases almost immediately after buying the finance company in October 2010.
Before the acquisition, GM Financial was AmeriCredit Corp., a specialist in subprime and near-prime auto loans. AmeriCredit was not offering lease deals when GM bought it, although the lender did have a nationwide leasing program from January 2007 through May 2008.
Many auto lenders bailed out or pulled back from leasing in 2008, thanks to high gasoline prices, falling residual values on pickups and SUVs, the recession and the credit freeze. The credit freeze hit AmeriCredit particularly hard because the company raised most of its funds for loans and leases from auto asset-backed securities, a market that dried up in 2008 and 2009.
"As AmeriCredit, we did have a national leasing program ... that had done more than $250 million in leases in the 18 months or so we had the program in place. So it's not like we've never done leasing," Berce said in a phone interview.
"That's not vast expertise compared to some others, but we had forayed into all 50 states. We have built on that experience," he said.
GM Financial launched its current leasing program, aimed at prime-risk customers, in December 2010, exclusively with GM dealers in Ohio. The lender originated $10.7 million worth of leases for the month, according to its fourth-quarter results.
In the first three months of 2011, that amount jumped to $310.9 million, as leasing started to take off at GM.
U.S. lease penetration for all GM leases grew from 16 percent of retail volume in November 2010 to 18 percent in December, 19 percent in January and 28 percent in February, above the month's industry average of 26 percent, according to transaction data compiled by AutoObserver.com, a unit of Edmunds.com.
GM's most recent low in lease penetration was 9 percent in March 2010, when the industry average was 22 percent.
GM Financial rival Ally also has increased its lease business with GM. In the first quarter of 2011, Ally originated $2.2 billion in leases. Ally hasn't said what percent of its leases are for GM brands, but GM is likely to account for the biggest share, since GM is Ally's biggest customer.
Ally's first-quarter total was up from $1.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010 and more than double the $1 billion in leases it saw in the first quarter of 2010. Ally also is the preferred lender for Chrysler Group.