General Motors named its second highest-ranking executive as chairman of its struggling German unit Opel and named two further senior managers to its board, as the U.S. carmaker tries to steer its second biggest brand back to profitability.

Under heavy pressure to justify its massive $52 billion taxpayer-funded bailout from 2009 and bolster a stock that has fallen far below its $33 market debut price, Detroit needs to find an answer for its European operations soon.

GM said on Monday that Vice Chairman Stephen Girsky, a board member of Opel with 25 years of experience in the auto industry, will replace Nick Reilly with immediate effect at the head of the German unit's oversight body.

GM is committed to Opel and aims to lead the brand to profitable growth, Girsky said in a statement.

To fully leverage the brand's potential, we will continue to work on optimizing the cost structure, improve margins and make use of economies of scale within the group.

The Ruesselsheim-based maker of the Opel Insignia sedan, known in the U.S. market as the Buick Regal, is being squeezed between lower-cost Asian competitors like Hyundai <005380.KS> and premium carmakers moving downmarket like VW's Audi.

It also named GM International Operations President Tim Lee and GM Chief Financial Officer Daniel Ammann as new members of Opel's supervisory board, which oversees the management team lead by Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke.

Earlier this month, GM posted a lower third-quarter profit on losses in Europe and offered a disappointing outlook that raised doubts about the speed of its turnaround two years after emerging from bankruptcy.

The biggest drag on GM's third-quarter results came from Opel, which burned a $300 million loss into its income statement.

At the time, CFO Ammann had said nothing was off the table in restructuring GM's European operations, including closing plants. Unions and politicians in Europe have resisted plant closures, stranding the industry with excess capacity.

Detroit also said 48-year old Peter Thom, currently GM China's manufacturing boss, will return to Opel as its new head of production, effective March 2012.

Thom will be responsible for extracting further efficiency gains from a manufacturing network based largely in high-cost Germany, including the Eisenach plant that he once ran.

GM opted to keep the brand two years ago after saying it would sell the unit to a consortium led by Magna and Sberbank , but it has struggled to turn around its European operations since.

(Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner; Editing by Dan Lalor and David Cowell)