Lincoln's top marketing and sales executive, Matt VanDyke, is leaving the brand this summer to become Ford of Europe's VP of marketing, a person with knowledge of the move told Automotive News.
Mr. VanDyke will be replaced by Robert Parker, who oversaw Lincoln's launch in China, according to a memo employees received today. The moves are effective July 1. Ford did not respond to a request for comment and it is unclear who Mr. VanDyke is replacing in Europe.
Mr. VanDyke has been director of global Lincoln since November 2012. Since then, Lincoln has become one of the fastest-growing automotive brands in the U.S. on the strength of a revamped product lineup and commercials featuring idiosyncratic actor Matthew McConaughey that gained traction after parodies by "Saturday Night Live" and comedian Ellen DeGeneres. Mr. VanDyke also worked to separate the brand more from Ford, adopting the name "Lincoln Motor Co."
Lincoln's U.S. sales are up 15% so far in 2016, even before the new Continental sedan arrives later this year. The brand is growing even faster in China, where it began opening dealerships in 2014. Under Mr. Parker, who is president of Lincoln China, it became the first luxury brand to sell more than 10,000 vehicles in its first full year there.
Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields, who advocated for keeping Lincoln as the automaker sold off its European brands and shut down Mercury during the recession, has committed billions of dollars toward revitalizing Lincoln. The brand is targeting 300,000 global sales by 2020, triple its 2013 numbers, with China expected to account for the majority of that growth.
The choice of Mr. Parker to succeed Mr. VanDyke shows China's importance to the brand and suggests that Lincoln may try to use some of the strategies it developed for China to help U.S. dealerships compete with larger luxury brands. It calls its sales approach in China, where customers are greeted by hosts and configure their vehicles in a personalization studio, the "Lincoln Way."
Mr. Parker, whose new position will involve working with Lincoln's U.S. dealers, has been with Ford since 1989 and with Lincoln in China since April 2014. Previously, he held roles in customer service, sales, parts, consumer and product marketing strategies. He had a stint with Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar when Ford owned those brands.
Mr. VanDyke, in his new role, will work with Ford of Europe chief Jim Farley, who had initiated the discussions with Mr. McConaughey while working as Ford's chief marketing officer. Mr. VanDyke then helped turn that into an ongoing, multiyear relationship with Mr. McConaughey, a longtime Lincoln customer, and he embraced the numerous parodies as helping the brand rebuild consumer awareness.
"I was getting calls from dealers telling me they had people coming in and asking to see the vehicle that was in the McConaughey commercials that were spoofed on SNL," he told Fast Company in 2015. "These people were telling our dealers that they'd never seen the car or considered Lincoln until seeing the spoofs, and many actually bought the car based on those visits. So the spoofs actually sold cars, too."
Nick Bunkley is a reporter for Automotive News.