With gas prices on the rise, so too has the search for electric cars

Are you thinking of buying an electric car? you are not alone.

With gas prices rising painfully and a spate of climate reports emphasizing the urgency of moving away from burning fossil fuels, more Americans are expressing interest in electric cars.

Google searches related to electric cars have skyrocketed, Reaching a record last month. On the automotive classifieds site Cars.com, searches for electric vehicles increased 43 percent from January to February and another 57 percent from February to March. And automakers are ready to cheer: Nearly every auto advertisement during the Super Bowl in February featured electric cars.

But the journey to actual purchases that put more electric cars and fewer gas-powered vehicles on US roads has two major hurdles: the supply of cars and the infrastructure to charge them.

With the United States, like most countries, struggling to find the political will to make the drastic changes needed to curb climate change, there is no doubt that more people switching to electric cars would be a positive step.

Even before gas prices started rising, electric vehicle supplies were strained by a number of factors. This includes supply chain problems, particularly shortages in items such as semiconductors, that have held back the auto industry as a whole. The war in Ukraine has further disrupted production, and long waiting lists for electric cars are common.

The shortage is not, of course, exhaustive, but places where demand is increasing are not necessarily the same places where supply continues. In states like Arizona and Georgia, demand is much higher than supply on Cars.com right now, according to the site’s editor-in-chief, Jenny Newman. California has the highest demand and the highest supply.

Although gas prices “should increase interest in electric vehicles, hybrids and overall fuel efficiency because the economy is better than it was (which was already good), consumers may not be able to get what they want and need,” David Friedman said. Vice President of Advocacy at Consumer Reports and former acting director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in an email.

This “reinforces the need for strong standards, because better options should be available before prices go up, not in response to them,” Friedman said, referring to policies such as fuel emissions standards that create an incentive for automakers to invest in an electric car.

Once people start driving electric cars, a second hurdle becomes clear: the limits of public charging infrastructure. More cars will need more places to charge, preferably in places near electric car owners.

Until now, most people buying electric cars have been people with the ability to charge them at home — homeowners with a garage, for example. This is an excellent option for many Americans, experts say, but it’s not feasible for everyone. And even some people who can charge at home are concerned about the relative scarcity of charging stations for their ability to travel long distances if they want to switch to an electric vehicle.

“Right now, the people who buy electric cars, almost all of them have their homes and a place to charge them from the university’s Institute of Transportation Studies,” said Daniel Sperling, professor of engineering and environmental policy at the University of California, Davis, and founding director. Multiple, which means they might use an electric car for their daily commute but also have a gas car for longer trips.

For people who don’t have multiple cars and live in apartment buildings in densely populated cities where even regular parking is difficult, charging an electric car isn’t as easy as plugging it into a garage outlet, and its range between charges becomes an even more pressing question.

This hurdle is not necessarily immediate. “In the short term, the infrastructure can certainly meet the growing demand,” said Luc Tonachel, director of vehicles and clean fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In the long run, though, the International Council on Clean Transportation found last year that the United States would need to increase the number of public chargers at a rate of 25 to 30 percent per year through 2030 “to prevent charging infrastructure from being an obstacle to the problem,” said Dale Hall, one of the Senior Council Researcher: Electric Vehicle Market.

Some of this is already happening, Mr. Tonachel said. He said utility companies have invested more than $3 billion in charging infrastructure, and the suspended applications, if approved, will add billions more. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year included another $7.5 billion for charging stations, and on a larger scale, the Biden administration is spending tens of billions of dollars to promote electric cars.

But geographical differences still exist in where these chargers are installed. A fundamental problem remains: profit.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a profit from selling electrons to vehicles,” Professor Sperling said, noting that currently, most public chargers are subsidized in some way, either by state funding — federal, state or local. – Or by employers who treat it as an advantage. “In the future, we will likely need one universal charger for every 10 vehicles,” Professor Sperling said. “And it is not entirely clear how this will happen.”

Hiroko Tabuchi Contribute to the preparation of reports.