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London's black cab is going green, with China's help

The black London cab is as quintessentially British (or London) as you can get, on a par with red buses and phone boxes, but it's had a makeover to bring it into the 21st century.

Before transport aficionados throw their arms up in horror, the makeover is more of an internal restructure than anything. In fact, the London black cab is going green and will harness the power of hybrid technology.

The new black TX5 cab was unveiled by the London Taxi Company on Wednesday, coinciding with the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to London -- as the company making the new black cab in the U.K. is Chinese.

The new TX5 will be a "plug-in, range extended, electric hybrid vehicle" which means, in laypersons terms, that the car should be able to travel for in excess of 30 miles entirely on battery power.


REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

It will be available before 1st January 2018 in order to meet the requirements set by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson for all new taxis to be Zero-Emissions Capable ("ZEC") by that date, LTC said on its website.

The timing of the unveiling was not coincidental as the Coventry-based carmaker is owned by Chinese manufacturer Geely and an example of positive Sino-U.K. business ties.

After buying the company in 2013 and rescuing it from near bankruptcy, Geely announced it was to make a £250 million ($385.8 million) investment to build a new factory near Coventry which will produce the new TX5 and create around 1,000 jobs.

There are hopes that the TX5 will retain a major part of the London taxi market and could be a key, iconic export for the firm. The current London demand for black cabs is only about 3,500 units per year, according to autocar.co.uk, meaning that the export market is a key target.

The LTC is not alone in the race to produce greener black cabs by 2018, however. Nissan announced last year that it would build its new generation of London taxi also in its Coventry factory. Other manufacturers saying they are developing electric or "zero-emission capable" black cabs include Frazer-Nash, Karsan and Mercedes.

The unveiling of the new model comes at a time when the U.K. is keen to promote its business opportunities for Chinese investment. The red carpet has been rolled out for President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, with China's most powerful couple being treated to the best pomp and pageantry Buckingham Palace can muster.

During the four-day visit to the U.K. this week Xi Jinping is due to meet a number of business leaders and the U.K. government hopes that more than £30 billion worth of commercial deals, creating around 4,000 jobs in the process, can be struck during the visit.

Correction: This story has been updated to show that the TX5 was unveiled Wednesday.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld