The U.S. is winding down its stake in the country's biggest auto maker, General Motors.
GM said Wednesday it would pay $5.5 billion for 200 million shares of stock held by the government, with the United States likely to sell its remaining 300 million shares over the next 12 to 15 months.
The U.S. rescued GM nearly four years ago as it teetered near collapse. The government pumped $51 billion into the company as it sought bankruptcy protection and then reshaped its operations with fewer models.
Critics of the government bailout derisively called the company "Government Motors," and the rescue became a contentious issue during this year's U.S. presidential election campaign. Analysts say President Barack Obama owes part of his re-election victory to his support of the GM bailout, which proved popular in the industrial heartland of the country. His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, opposed the government intervention.
With the rescue, GM regained its once-dominant standing as the top-selling auto maker in the world in 2011, although Japan's Toyota Motors is likely to move ahead of GM when 2012 sales are totaled.
While U.S. taxpayers saved the company, they are likely to end up well short of recovering their $51 billion investment in GM. The GM purchase of the government-owned stock leaves the U.S. $21.5 billion short of breaking even. Sales of the remaining shares, at roughly the same $27.50 price as Wednesday's deal, would only recoup about another $8 billion.