by Noah Kravitz

CES 2011 marks NVIDIA’s coming out party, if you will, in the automotive space. NVIDIA and Audi have enjoyed a partnership for some time now, and NVIDIA-powered technology can be seen in current Audis including the Google Earth navigation system found in the 2011 A8 sedan. In fact, Audi likes working with NVIDIA so much that last year they asked NVIDIA to work with them on their second-generation navigation technologies.  So clearly this young relationship between Visual Computing and “Truth in Engineering” is already bearing fruit.

But there’s more, much more, as they say: NVIDIA also announced two new auto industry partnerships destined to raise a few eyebrows in Silicon Valley and Munich, Germany alike.

Tesla Model S 3

First, electric carmaker Tesla Motors chose NVIDIA to power the navigation, infotainment and instrument cluster systems in their much-anticipated Model S sedan. The Model S, slated for a 2012 launch, is an all-electric, seven-passenger, four door sedan that will be the company’s second production car, taking its place next to the ultra-fast Roadster and Roadster Sport in the lineup

I’ll be honest with you – long before I signed on to cover CES for NVIDIA or knew anything about their plans with Tesla, I’d been lusting after the Model S. Call me a family man, call me too tame for the Roadster, but I love the S’s combination of sleek styling, four door/fastback practicality, and zero-emissions performance. Tesla’s promised 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds, a top speed of 120 mph, and sports car handling from the Model S, which spoke just a little to my inner car nerd, too.

As Phil Atkin, director of strategic marketing in NVIDIA’s Automotive group told me, “Efficiency is a religion at Tesla and NVIDIA was the only company who could meet their vision of a very powerful system backed by incredible efficiency. They asked for the impossible and we delivered.”

NVIDIA also announced a new partnership with BMW – yes, that BMW – to provide state-of-the-art graphics technologies across their entire product line. That means that future generations of everything from M5s to MINI Coopers around the globe will be rocking Tegra-based visuals. Several of my tech blogging buddies are car nerds, too. And they all drive Bimmers. In fact, I’d go so far to say that the 335i and M3 are the weapons of choice for mobile industry reporters who put their money where their mouths are when it comes to auto enthusiasm. So it makes perfect sense that BMW would be teaming up with NVIDIA for their rockin next gen nav.

Granted, these are just announcements. So clearly I’ll have to find a way to get behind-the-wheel time in some Audis, BMWs and a Tesla Model S cars to be sure I fully understand how the technology works. You know, research.  Patience, Noah … patience.