It's the latest in a string of executive changes under CEO Dan Akerson. So far this year, Akerson has installed new heads of manufacturing, information technology, infotainment and GM Europe, while also dismissing his global marketing chief, Joel Ewanick.
Socia has held several other senior positions overseas. He was president of GM South Africa in 2004 and has served in executive roles in Asia, Europe and South America.
Socia will report to Tim Lee, GM's vice president of global manufacturing and president of its international operations, which includes China.
"Bob has extensive experience leading global operations and global purchasing, and working directly with our joint venture partners," Lee said in a statement.
Wale leaving on his own terms
Wale began his career at GM's Holden unit in Australia in 1975. In 1998, he was named head of GM's Asia-Pacific operations, and in 2001 became managing director of GM's Vauxhall brand in the U.K. and vice president of GM Europe.
"Kevin has been instrumental in strengthening our foundation in the largest vehicle market in the world," Lee said. "We appreciate Kevin's nearly four decades of service to the company and wish him continued success."
Wale is retiring of his own accord, GM spokeswoman Lori Arpin told Reuters.
"He's been at GM almost 40 years and he's been in China almost seven years," Arpin said.
After working long hours and traveling frequently to help establish GM in China, Wale has said he "wants to eat, drink, sleep and play golf like normal people," according to Arpin.
Reuters contributed to this story.