Ronald Reagan: Father Of The Modern Electric Car?

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U.S. President Ronald Reagan

U.S. President Ronald Reagan

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With the Chevrolet Volt having become such a punching bag of certain media outlets lately, we found ourselves musing on a remarkable notion in electric-car history:

The father of the modern electric car is none other than conservative icon Ronald Reagan.

That idea came a few weeks ago in an article posted on the Daily Caller, an online news outlet launched by Tucker Carlson, the conservative commentator, and Neil Patel, an aide to former vice president Dick Cheney.

Boiled down to its basics, the argument says that by signing legislation to create the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 1967, while he was governor of that state, Reagan launched the governmental body that would later mandate the sale of zero-emission vehicles--first in the late 1990s and again starting this year.

In fact, the man who would become the nation's 40th president in 1981, not to mention an icon of the conservative right, was no less than the very first chairman of CARB in 1968.

How times change.

The establishment of CARB, and its role in fighting the prevalent Los Angeles smog in those days, are covered in great detail by acclaimed author Daniel Yergin in his latest book, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

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We'd covered that history last year, when the book came out, but we must admit we hadn't connected the dots between Reagan and California's smog-fighting efforts.

The entire piece in the Daily Caller is worth reading, in part because it correctly identifies the odious politics around electric cars as reflecting antipathy toward the General Motors bailout and the idea of government subsidies for technology, misdirected toward the vehicle itself.

As author Matt K. Lewis notes, "Conservatives — the largest ideological bloc in the U.S. — seem to harbor an especially strong disdain for the electric car."

"This is, perhaps, ironic."



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Comments (19)
  1. Ronald Reagan the father of modern electric cars........yeah right. But hey if believing this is what the republicans need to believe in order to get onboard with electric cars, who am I to argue.

  2. There are only a few making noises. Much of the debate is about the GM bankruptcy procedure and subsidies in general. If you look at who actually purchased Volts to date, I think you will find that it's probably a majority of Republicans. Maybe not significantly more than 50%, but I'm guessing a majority.

  3. You have to admit that it wasn't the Democrats who are kicking the Volt around. But this story is not Volt related anyway so, whatever.

  4. I don't believe it (Regan etc) either but a great number of republican politicians are on board with electric cars in a big way. In fact I'll bet you'll find that a great many of them are all for building more, especially in their home states.
    I also don't think it makes a difference if you are republican or democrat as a consumer - we all read the Maroney label and the EPA efficiency stickers the same way and most of us have mastered simple arithmetic.

  5. According to this article, the Chevrolet Volt was developed by Republicans, under a Republican President, by a capitalist corporation, and appealing primarily to Republican car buyers:

  6. Reagan would be considered more liberal than the most leftist liberals today. All the freaks who invoke his name these days don't even have a clue... His son said the other day that the patients took over the asylum and he would appreciate if they left his father's name alone - he's nothing like them.

  7. My best advice to anyone who wants to become more familiar with Reagan is to watch the 1964 speech that launched his political career. In this speech 48 years ago, you will see that he was totally on the money:

  8. Are you serious, talk about clueless! Carl Marx is right of most of the liberals today.

  9. Really, Joe. I guess I missed the platform of the Democratic party that called for 100% state ownership of the means of production. But since not understanding what the words socialism and communism is a basic part of today's right-wing orthodoxy, why should I be surprised?

    Feel free to enlighten us all with an example of a policy where liberals today are to the left of Karl Marx. This should prove amusing...

  10. hehe, so that's why CARB is useless

  11. The point is that Regan saw a problem (smog) where government (like it or not) would need to play a role. The "free market" might be the right answer to many questions, just not every question.

  12. Ronald Reagan is definitely not the father of the EV. While he may have been part of the early CARB, as President his administration did their best to kill the USDOE electric and hybrid vehicle research project that was housed at JPL in the early 1980s. Speaking as one of the laid-off engineers and researchers, I watched as they dismantled the labs and poured concrete into the dynamometer pits. Luckily, some of the work was picked up by INREL and they ran with it.

  13. Boy, there's a complete lie because some news maker had to meet a deadline.

    Reagan had no intention of supporting EVs by starting the ARB. The fact that the board supports them now is because the other party, Dems, have moved the board in the direction of reducing air pollution and EVs are a way to do that. If anything Reagan was a Union busting, oil-lover.

  14. As a Electrical and Nuclear Engineer, I love technology and anything with a motor! The problem I have and most conservatives is tax payers funding peoples purchases of elecric cars. They should stand on their own. Ronald Reagan would agree.

  15. "If anything Raygun was a Union busting, oil-lover."
    There, I fixed it for you.

  16. Reagan was a Californian that looked over an ever swelling population and the smog that the density created. He rightly began the California Air Resources Board as a new board to improve the situation. History shows CARB as a leading regulatory driver that ushered in the electric car.

    That Republican root word of "conserve" is alive and well today in many Republicans, myself included.

    Please read this lambasting of an editorial from a Republican from San Diego, a CARB board member. This reflects my idea of what the republican party should stand for.

    BMW ActiveE spouse

  17. If just signing an EPA bill makes Regan the father of the modern electric car, then Carter would be the father of the modern solar panel. You remember them, the ones Regan ripped off the roof of the White House and directed the clean energy funding to coal, oil, and nuclear. Doing that would also make Regan the father of dirty energy, wouldn't it, and putting those two together would make Reagan an oxymoron, or maybe just a moron?

  18. As evidenced by his very first advt as President when he removed the solar panels and set the thermostat to a "California- like" level?

  19. And Nixon established the EPA...

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