Strides have been made already, Ammann says. The Opel Adam and Mokka small CUV, for example, helped Opel post a market-share gain to 5.61% last year from 5.59% in 2012, according to the automaker. It was the first market-share gain for Opel in 14 years.

“A small, but important milestone,” Ammann says. “There’s no doubt we’re making some real progress.”

On the financial side, Opel slashed its losses in Europe to $800 million last year from $1.9 billion in like-2012. It also has appointed a slew of new executives in recent months, such as Mueller and CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann, and added a captive financing unit to support sales.

The investment puts muscle behind an unprecedented marketing campaign to polish Opel’s image, too, which Mueller admits had grown “dusty, old-fashioned” and slipped into irrelevance. She says early progress is being made there, as well, with poster, Internet and television campaigns reminding consumers of its German engineering and portraying cars such as the funky little Adam in a more progressive light.

“Since October of last year, we see the image is catching up significantly, month by month,” Mueller says. “The brand position is changing, and I believe with this image campaign we can provoke people to look at Opel in a different way.”

She says reminding Europeans that Opel is a German brand conveys a higher quality standard. “We are not known for fashion or furniture design. We are known for cars.”

Mueller expects the Opel brand to be back on track in terms of consumer perception by 2016. Although the early success gives her reason to think it may come sooner, Mueller still places Opel’s comeback in the context of David vs. Goliath.

“We have to be faster and more daring,” she says.

That’s why Mueller took the assignment in the middle of a successful 20-year career in cosmetics.

“If I manage to turn this brand around and get it back on stage, that’s the best you can do as a marketing person,” she says.

jamend@wardsauto.com