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First comes infrastructure, then come the cars. That was the logic behind San Francisco’s deal with vehicle-charging network startup Better Place, and today General Motors said that it’s working with that city’s utility regulators, major employers, universities and politicians to develop policies and “enablers” (likely including […]

First comes infrastructure, then come the cars. That was the logic behind San Francisco’s deal with vehicle-charging network startup Better Place, and today General Motors said that it’s working with that city’s utility regulators, major employers, universities and politicians to develop policies and “enablers” (likely including fleet supply contracts) to ease the initial commercial roll-out of the extended-range electric Chevy Volt next year. GM, which made the announcement at the Washington Auto Show, said it also plans to begin similar talks in Washington, D.C.

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Infrastructure for electric vehicles could help encourage adoption of cars like the Volt. GM puts the all-electric range (before a small gas-powered motor kicks in) at 40 miles — which for many Californians (those commuting between San Francisco and parts of Silicon Valley, for example) would necessitate a pit stop to recharge. With Better Place and Coulomb Technologies both deploying charging stations in the region during the next few years, the San Francisco Bay Area — which local mayors want to make the electric vehicle capital of the U.S. — offers GM a laboratory in which to work out the kinks of real-world use before it goes for the mass market.

Of course, offsetting the Volt’s $40,000 price tag (about $11,500 more than the average car sold in the U.S.) with tax breaks, electricity discounts or other incentives wouldn’t hurt either. But San Francisco and GM are working instead on a plan for public and private fleet budgets to absorb some of the cost. Back in November, the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose identified nine policy points that would help smooth a transition to electric vehicle. One — new programs for high-volume orders of EVs in public and private fleets — could help GM sell enough unprofitable first-generation Volts to work on cutting costs for a second generation that could actually be profitable and priced for the mass market.

“We know plenty of work still remains, both within and outside of GM,” Ed Peper, GM North America’s Chevy V-P, said in today’s announcement. “But today’s and other recent announcements underscore the comprehensive work being done to bring the Chevrolet Volt and other electrically driven vehicles to market — and they also highlight why we are so optimistic about the ultimate success of the Volt.”

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