GM announced that company veteran Mary Barra would succeed Dan Akerson as chief executive on January 15.
Barra, 51, currently works as executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain. In announcing the news, GM said Barra is "a leader in the company's ongoing turnaround" that has seen it reverse a long decline.
GM's announcement came just one day after the US Treasury sold its last shares in General Motors, closing the books on a 2008 bailout executed amid the financial crisis. GM and fellow US automakers Ford and Chrysler have gained on surging auto sales throughout 2013.
Barra has worked at GM for 33 years, rising through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions.
An engineer by training, Barra has also served as vice president of global human resources, where she was credited with shaking up a corporate culture that had depressed profits and innovation.
Her GM-heavy background contrasts with Akerson, who joined GM as chief executive in 2010 after working on buyouts for investment firm The Carlyle Group.
Barra joins a growing list of prominent female chief executives across a wide swath of US sectors.
Other prominent female CEOs include IBM's Virginia Rometty, Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard, Patricia Woertz at Archer Daniels Midland, Ellen Kullman at DuPont and Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer, who also serves on the board of the world's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores.
Janet Yellen, currently the vice chair of the US Federal Reserve, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate as chairman of the central bank in the coming weeks and could assume one of the world's most prominent economic policy posts in January.
Tuesday's announcement unveiled a series of other significant executive changes, including news that board member Theodore Solso would succeed Akerson as chairman.
Dan Ammann, currently executive vice president and chief financial officer, will become president and assume responsiblity for regional operations around the world. The global Chevrolet and Cadillac brands will report to him. A replacement as CFO will be named later.
Akerson, 65, accelerated the succession plan by several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with "an advanced stage of cancer," the company said.
GM shares were off 0.1 percent in mid-morning trade. Shares have risen more than 60 percent over the last 12 months.
Analyst reports released after the US Treasury announced Monday it had sold its remaining equity stake in GM said the shares were primed to rise further thanks to improving products and the anticipation of a corporate dividend and share buyback program.
In a note released Tuesday morning following the Barra news, Bank of America Merrill Lynch characterized the GM succession plans as "somewhat earlier than expected," but "relatively consistent with market expectations."
Barra is "well positioned to lead (GM) to future success," Bank of America added.