Dubai Now Has a Fleet of Tesla Model S and Model X Taxis

And they could help lead the way to a fleet of autonomous taxis....someday. 

AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File

A member of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates may seem like an odd place for electric taxis, but Dubai is betting big on them. The Dubai Taxi Corporation has launched a fleet of 50 Tesla Model S and Model X taxis.

The bulk purchase was part of a directive issued by Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, according to a Gulfnews.com report. The 50 cars are part of an order for 200 that Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority announced in February.

While Dubai isn't completely uninterested in the Tesla's zero-emission powertrains, the decision to deploy such a large fleet of them seems to be at least partially rooted in Tesla's Autopilot driver-assist system. Tesla expects Autopilot to form the foundation for fully-autonomous driving, and that's something Dubai officials are definitely interested in. The government wants 25 percent of journeys within Dubai to be driverless by 2030.

Following the initial 50 cars, Dubai plans to take delivery of 75 Teslas in 2018, and 75 more in 2019 to reach the previously-stated total of 200. Since Tesla plans to add autonomous-driving capability through software updates, it's possible that these cars will be able to drive themselves at some point. But developing an autonomous car of any kind is hard work, and Autopilot has already attracted some controversy, so it's unclear when these Tesla software updates might become available. 

With the government committed to autonomous taxis, though, it's possible Dubai will remove another major obstacle to self-driving cars by creating regulations that streamline their deployment. In other countries, the regulatory situation is proving just as uncertain as the technology itself.