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Electric Vehicles at 2011 CES: Electronic Gadgets You Can Get In and Drive

The biggest automotive electronic gadget at the 2011 Consumer Electronic Show is the automobile itself, in the form of battery powered electric vehicles and all the related gear that's necessary to own one, like charging stations and apps to manage recharging your EV.

CES has a whole "Tech Zone" within the show dedicated to EVs, including what are called "high-speed" and "low-speed" models. High-speed means battery powered cars from mainstream manufacturers like Ford (F) or Hyundai (HYMLF.PK), which can drive at highway speeds. Ford and Hyundai are exhibitors at CES, although they were mum ahead of time about what they will have on display.

As far as the auto industry is concerned the press preview for the 2011 CES kicks into high gear today, Jan. 6. Audi (VLKAY.PK) Chairman Rupert Stadler is scheduled to give a speech tonight. Audi is cultivating an image for itself as an innovator and a more contemporary, with-it choice than traditional rivals Mercedes-Benz (DDAIF.PK), BMW (BAMXY.PK) and Lexus.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally is on the program for a keynote speech on Friday, Jan. 7. Ford announced earlier it will build a battery powered version of the Ford Focus in a converted truck plant. In the context of CES, that's bound to figure in Mulally's presentation.

It's safe to say every major auto manufacturer has EVs in the works. Nissan (NSANY.PK) was recently first out of the gate with the Nissan Leaf.

The Nissan Leaf is the first EV aimed at tens of thousands of sales per year initially, instead of a few hundred per year. By 2013 or so, Nissan will have the capacity to build 150,000 units annually, in Tennessee. The much more expensive Tesla Roadster EV debuted in June 2008, but it costs more than $100,000.

Meanwhile, "low-speed" EVs are more properly called Neighborhood Electric Vehicles. They're legal only on certain public roads, and only at low speeds. Think Arizona retirement communities. Despite the limited appeal and a lack of uniform safety standards for NEVs, they will be out in full force alongside more capable "high-speed" EVs.

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Logo: Consumer Electronics Association