Reporting from Greentech Media's The Networked EV event in San Francisco:

Electric Vehicles (EVs) aren't new, but the next-generation EVs hitting the market in late 2010 and 2011 will mark the first time in the history of EVs where price and performance might actually live up to the hype.

In a panel moderated by Greentech Media Editor-In-Chief, Michael Kanellos, the audience assembled at the PG&E auditorium got to hear from automakers about what could be the year that electric vehicles broke and a bit about the batteries that make them go.

Diarmuid O'Connell, Vice President of Business Development at Tesla Motors, focused on his firm's big bet -- the Model S sedan that's due in 2012 and is being built at the immense Nummi plant in Fremont. See Taking the Tesla Factory Tour and their Q3 Earnings data here.

Dave Barthmuss, Group Manager, Western Region, Environment & Energy Communications, General Motors, celebrated GM being "back in the business of electric vehicles."   

He said that the "Chevy Volt is a kick to drive" and spoke of the "instant torque" when you step on the accelerator.  He saw the vehicle's 50-mile range as the sweet spot and regards the charging engine as being able to alleviate range anxiety.  The battery takes three to four hours to charge at 220 volts and ten to twelve hours at 120 volts.  The car will be in showrooms at the end of the year.

Peter M. Fannon, Vice President, Technology Policy, Panasonic Corp. of North America, said that by 2019, Panasonic wants to get one-third of their revenue from energy-related activities and to be the number-one green manufacturer in the world. 

Panasonic has a long history in electric vehicles; they made the nickel metal hydride (NiMh) batteries for the hybrid Prius and are now the supplier of choice for the lithium-ion cells for the Tesla Roadster.  They recently announced a $30 million investment in Tesla and they expect to see their batteries halve in price over the coming years (see Panasonic Invests $30M in Tesla).

Liam Li, Senior Business Director,  BYD America, dropped what was for this reporter one of the biggest pieces of news of the session -- the $25,000 cost of the BYD electric vehicle will be subsidized by about half by the Chinese government for Chinese consumers.  Compare that to the Chevy Volt, which will retail at about $30,000 after tax credits.  

Phil Gow, Vice President, Battery Systems, CODA Automotive, spoke of his firm's 4-door, 5-passenger EV sedan that is equipped with the standard amenities you'd expect on any car in this class -- air bags, anti-lock brakes, etc.  It has a 90-to-120-mile all-season range from the 33.8-kWh LiFe PO4 battery system.  Read more about Coda's pricing here and about the recent CEO issues here

And while we're talking EVs, you can read about Wright Speed's recent funding announcement and view a video test drive with Michael Kanellos here

The Greentech Media event, however, wasn't meant to focus solely on the cars themselves, but rather on the relationship of those vehicles to the grid and the impact of charging millions of EVs on an electric grid not yet engineered for that purpose.  We'll discuss this impact and the role of EVs as the gateway drug for adding smarts to the utility grid and the way it will change the consumer's relationship to the grid in upcoming articles.  Stay tuned.