Volkswagen's Neumann named key GM exec and Opel CEO

General Motors Co appointed Volkswagen AG's Karl-Thomas Neumann as president of GM Europe and chief executive of its struggling European unit Opel as of March 1, the company said on Thursday.

At Opel, he will immediately be confronted with an operation that is suffering heavy losses, as well as a weak brand image and has been unable to utilize GM's substantial scale advantages.

Opel has not had a CEO since Karl-Friedrich Stracke was forced to resign in June. The company had named strategy chief Thomas Sedran as acting head of the company, in a move that was widely interpreted by analysts as a sign that the GM unit was looking for an external candidate.

Neumann, once considered a leading candidate to replace Martin Winterkorn as VW chief executive, lost out in a management reshuffle at the group in June. In a surprise move, he was replaced as head of the group's China operations despite no outward signs of troubles.

His departure to Opel is the second time he is leaving Volkswagen.

He became CEO of German auto parts supplier Continental in 2008, but was ousted a year later after a spat with the company's owner, Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler, and her top lieutenant Juergen Geissinger.

Neumann's arrival, first reported in November, makes him the third Volkswagen executive to join Opel's board recently after VW of America's Michael Lohscheller took responsibility for finances and VW's Skoda head in China, Alfred Rieck, headed up sales at Opel.

(Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner; Editing by David Holmes)