Cincinnati history shows national EV consensus won't come easily

In the hallways at the Automotive News Green Car Conference/Exposition, I heard folks hoping for a national electric-vehicle policy. They want a clear direction that would get cities and towns across America to set up a charging-station infrastructure that will speed the spread of EVs.

Don’t hold your breath.

I say this based on my authority as a native of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati, Ohio, is a physically beautiful city with a great baseball heritage. But its history also is a reminder of how cantankerous and resistant to change some Americans can be.

All through my school days and well into my college years in the 1970s, Cincinnati fought requests that it put fluoride into its water supply. Not because doing so would improve the public's dental health and thereby risk cutting into the toothpaste business of local company Procter & Gamble. No, the opposition said adding fluoride would be an imposition on their individual rights.

That wasn't the first time Cincy bucked a national trend. Back in the 19th century, when the United States adopted standard time, Cincinnati held out.

I'm not talking about daylight saving time, which Indiana resisted. I'm talking standard time, as in Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific. The United States was trying to set up clear demarcations: east of this line would be 8 a.m., west of it would be 7 a.m. This radical change was going to simplify railroad schedules.

Cincinnati said no. It viewed the whole scheme as a federal plot to assert control over what had been a municipal decision. It was years before the city joined the rest of the nation in setting its clocks.

So experience tells me not to sit around waiting for a nationwide consensus on an electrification strategy. Far better to do what Nissan, GM and Think are doing with their electric cars: sell them in a few selected and EV-welcoming markets, learn from that experience, and hope other locales decide to follow.