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Texas Direct Auto Manages Vehicles Via RFID

The technology has helped the car and truck reseller track its refurbishing processes, ensure that no vehicles end up missing, solve thefts and improve customer service.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 06, 2016

Automotive seller Texas Direct Auto has boosted the throughput time of the 3,000 cars and trucks that pass through its facility each month by 30 percent, with the help of a radio frequency identification solution that tracks vehicles as they are received, maintained, test-driven, stored and permanently removed from the site by a buyer.

Texas Direct Auto, which was acquired last month by online car retailer Vroom, started as an Internet-only sales company approximately 13 years ago. The company sells trucks and cars out of its 70-acre campus in Stafford, Texas, and buyers purchase the vehicles online, as well as visiting the campus, test-driving the vehicles and making a purchase in the traditional manner. Texas Direct's nationwide representatives examine 10,000 vehicles every month, but the company buys only about 3,000 of those, and sells about the same number. It also operates a 300,000-square-foot facility in which the vehicles are repaired and refurbished before being sold to customers.

When a customer returns a car after taking a test-drive, an RFID reader installed above the entranceway captures the vehicle's tag ID. The software then sends a text message to that salesperson's phone, indicating that the driver has returned.
Mike Welch, Texas Direct Auto's cofounder, says he and his partner, Richard Williams, brought a technology background (with dot-com companies) to their startup, with the concept of a Web-based car sales system. "We've always approached the business with an eye on process and automation," he states. For instance, Welch says, everything can be purchased online, or buyers can visit the facility and use a computer there to look up information about the cars and trucks for sale, as well as test-drive those vehicles. After making a purchase, a customer can view the car's status as its final detailing is performed in preparation for pick-up, on an airport-like screen labeled "Departures."

The RFID system began as a simple way to help employees and buyers quickly locate vehicles on the large lot. Because the company maintains so large an inventory within such a vast area, the company sought a system that would identify where each vehicle was located so that it could be easily accessed. In 2012, Texas Direct Auto first installed the RFID system, which it has expanded throughout the subsequent years, with the firm developing its own software and performing its own systems integration. (Welch declines to indicate the makes and models of RFID tags and readers that his company is currently using.)

At its 10 sites around the Houston area, workers apply an EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag to the windshield of each newly acquired vehicle. The tag's unique ID number is linked to the vehicle identification number (VIN) in Texas Direct Auto's software, which resides on its own database, as well as on a cloud-based server.

Upon arriving at the Texas lot, the car is checked into the 300,000-square-foot reconditioning facility, which uses the RFID system to track the vehicle during each step of the process. When a vehicle arrives at the facility's entrance gate, an RFID reader captures its ID number, thereby prompting the gate to unlock and open, and updating the vehicle's status as having arrived at the site.

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