Ford Motor Company loses a top digital executive, company liaison to 'nervous' car dealers

Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free Press

Ford Motor Company notified its employees Tuesday that Matt VanDyke, an executive at the automaker for 14 years, leaves this week to become president of a digital company with clients in Europe and throughout North America.

VanDyke, 49, told his team that his last day at Ford would be Friday. 

He departs as CEO of FordDirect after being named to the position in January 2021. In that role, he was a key "liaison" between Ford and its franchise dealers, according to a FordDirect news release at the time. 

Matt VanDyke leaves Ford Motor Co. as CEO of FordDirect to take a job as president of Shift Digital in June 2022.

VanDyke declined an interview request from the Detroit Free Press, saying he wanted to get settled in his new job at Shift Digital before talking directly to any reporters.

Shift Digital, a company that provides technology assistance, program management and support services, caters primarily to global automakers as well as heavy equipment, hospitality and "power sports" companies that sell snowmobiles and motorcycles. 

Founded in 2008, Shift Digital is based in Birmingham, Michigan,  with offices in Laguna Beach, California, Plano, Texas, and Toronto. The company employs 600 people.

VanDyke begins his new job June 28.

"VanDyke will join the company during an exciting time of growth," Shift Digital CEO Phil Oriani, who grew up in Dearborn, said in a news release Tuesday.

Ford praised the departing executive in its own news release late Tuesday.

“We want to thank Matt for all of his contributions to Ford," Suzy Deering, Ford global chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

He brought "deep knowledge" to Ford and was "instrumental in modernizing digital marketing" at the company, Deering said. 

Incoming CEO named

Dean Stoneley will move now from general manager of Ford North America Truck to CEO of FordDirect "during an incredible time of transformation," Deering said. "We are supporting our dealers for a digitally-connected ecosystem and FordDirect will play an important role in making that transition and moving our dealers forward into the future.”

Stoneley moves into the new job effective June 27.

Previously, he was president of Ford of Canada, working with the Canadian government and Unifor to make the Oakville Assembly Complex a battery electric site for Ford. Stoneley has held key marketing leadership roles in the U.S., Canada, Southern Africa and Asia-Pacific markets, Ford said.

FordDirect will be a new experience that harnesses his marketing skill, Stoneley said.

Dean Stoneley will join FordDirect as CEO, effective June 27, 2022, Ford Motor Co. announced June 21, 2022.

"This is a business performing at a high caliber with an incredible level of sophistication. I can't wait to learn more as we strive for continued success while serving Ford Motor Company, Ford dealers, and Lincoln retailers," Stoneley said in the Ford news release. "I look forward to the chance to meet the FordDirect team."

He has been at Ford since 2001, according to his LinkedIn professional profile. He earned a bachelor's degree from Western University in London, Ontario.

Dealer ally leaves

John McElroy, a longtime auto industry observer and host of "Autoline After Hours" webcast and podcast, said Ford dealers "are very, very nervous" lately about their future as the automaker transitions to all-electric vehicles and changes the dealership model.

In China, Ford uses direct-to-consumer sales.

Ford has indicated it plans to reveal details of its dealership plan later this year.

Jim Farley, the CEO of the Ford Motor Company, talks about the F-150 Lightning pickup truck during its official launch at the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

CEO Jim Farley has said digital services play a major role in future strategy of the company. He has also said dealers are essential to Ford but things will change.

However, while in New York June 1,  Farley said electric vehicles would be sold online with non-negotiable prices.  

Ford issued a warning to dealers about hiking prices on the all-electric 2022 F-150 Lightning after being flooded with consumer complaints. One dealer backed down from a $10,000 markup.

On June 15, John Lawler, Ford chief financial officer, told Deutsche Bank analysts, "We're going to be very selective with our Model e (car) dealers."

Now VanDyke won't be a part of that transition.

'Dramatically changing'

His new employer, Shift Digital, touted VanDyke's marketing and sales strategy at Ford, where he led the digital consumer experience and retail go-to-market strategies, communications and revenue management, according to Ford's website.

His jobs at Ford included director of U.S. marketing, vice president of marketing for Ford of Europe and director of Lincoln global marketing, sales and service. He also led the start of various digital and retail consumer experiences, the rollout of new Ford websites, and the development and introduction of e-commerce activity, according to Ford's website.

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“Consumer purchasing habits are dramatically changing as more individuals embrace the digital buying experience, and it is critical that automakers and dealers deliver an exceptional consumer experience at the brand level and dealers’ individual sites,” VanDyke said in the Shift Digital news release Tuesday.

“The opportunity to join Shift Digital enables me to expand my knowledge and impact more brands and retailers as the industry goes through this digital evolution," he said.

Phil Oriani, CEO of Shift Digital based in Birmingham, Mich., poached a top digital expert from Ford Motor Co. in Matt VanDyke.

Oriani, calling VanDyke a "rare" cultural fit with the new company, praised his vast experience with brand management and dealer advocacy.


On Jan. 15, 2021, a news release from FordDirect said VanDyke would lead the team responsible for uniting the worlds of digital, data and technology to deliver "best-in-class marketing and advertising solutions to Ford and Lincoln Dealers."

Ford called him "a passionate marketer with worldwide expertise in automotive brand positioning," who made experiences better for consumers and dealerships.  

FordDirect was labeled a joint venture between Ford and its franchise owners, and VanDyke was credited with transformational efforts.

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VanDyke joined Ford in 2008. He led Ford and Lincoln advertising, launched more than 15 new vehicles, and championed brand and retail campaigns to help transform the opinion of the Ford brand, according to the Ford website.

In 2012, he and his team began rebranding and developing a new product and experience strategy for Lincoln. In 2016, he became director for Global Lincoln, leading the luxury brand’s marketing, sales and service team.

VanDyke earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Miami University.

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