China-based Geely brings London's black cab into the 21st century with a hybrid drivetrain

Once a common sight in cities all over England, the iconic Hackney carriage -- colloquially known as the black cab -- has lost a significant amount of its market share over the past decade. The London Taxi Company is preparing to introduce a brand new model in a bid to reclaim its spot as the poster child of England's taxi industry.

The London Taxi Company is owned by Geely, a large, China-based automaker whose portfolio of brands also includes Sweden's Volvo. Geely invested over 300 million (roughly $465 million) to build a state-of-the-art cab dubbed TX5 that's fully capable of fending off competition from much more modern passenger vans built by the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Nissan.

The TX5 was designed from a blank sheet of paper. One of the most notable advancements is that it will launch with a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain, a technology that will become mandatory for all taxi cabs operating in London starting in 2018. Power for the TX5 is primarily provided by a four-cylinder engine, but the cab is also capable of driving solely on electricity.

Penned in Barcelona by British designers, the TX5 borrows styling cues such as its tall grille, its round headlights and its pronounced belt line from the Austin FX4 cab that was introduced in 1958. The retro treatment is only skin-deep, and the cab boasts composite body panels as well as a modular aluminum platform that keeps weight in check.

More From Digital Trends

The cab will offer space for a driver, up to six passengers -- one more than the current model -- and a few suitcases. Accessed via suicide doors, the passenger compartment will be equipped with in-car WiFi, charging ports for mobile devices and a tourist-friendly panoramic sunroof.

TX5s will roll out of a brand new factory that's currently being built in England. The plant will initially have an annual capacity of 36,000 cars, a figure that far exceeds demand from taxi drivers in London. Geely has hinted that it wants to sell the TX5 around the globe, and officials predict the modular platform will ultimately underpin about seven models.

Don't expect to get picked up by a TX5 if you fly into the Heathrow Airport for the holidays this year. The cab's design has been finalized but production hasn't started yet, and it's not scheduled to hit the market until 2017 at the very earliest.