High gas prices prompt businesses, consumers to rethink spend management Carmakers are anxiously eying the rising price of gas, but experts contend that if they continue their upward trend it could drive sales of hybrid and electric cars.

The cost of gas in the U.S. has surged since the beginning of the year. If they continue to climb, which most experts say they could, they are likely to hurt President Obama's re-election hopes, as Americans struggle to pay to fill up at the pump. The average price of gas differs among states, but they have crept past $3.65 in large swaths of the nation, edging precariously close to what strategists say is a critical threshold of around $4.

When gas prices top $4 per gallon, there tends to be a significant backlash among the electorate, Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told The New York Times. With prices currently 12 percent higher than they were at the same point a year earlier, the president has had to respond to mounting criticism from GOP presidential candidates.

"Four dollars per gallon has typically been the tipping point when people go from complacency to exasperation," Garin said.

That gas prices have risen so precipitously over the past few months is largely outside of the president's control, but that has not stopped anxious voters from articulating their fears to the president at events he stages throughout the U.S. The uptick in prices has largely resulted from geopolitical tensions emanating from the Middle East, particularly as the West has increased its criticism of Iran, which is moving forward with its condemned nuclear power program.

Moreover, burgeoning demand from China and other emergent economies has outstripped supplies, spurring the price gains. High energy prices are eating into consumers' disposable incomes and businesses' profits, but Marketplace reports that they could fuel sales of hybrid and electric vehicles if they continue to climb. While such automobiles tend to be more expensive than other kinds of car models, they can generate long-term cost reductions.

Economists and public officials are concerned the steep rise in gas prices will have a serious impact on overall spending. At current prices, the U.S. will spend $55 billion more this year than in 2011 on gas. Companies are increasingly eying supply chain management and overall spend management as a means of combating the rise in gas prices, but experts affirm investing in efficient vehicles and other technologies could significantly reduce the long-term burden of volatile energy prices.

With energy prices forecast to remain elevated at least over the short-term, experts contend that sales of hybrid and electric vehicles will start to rise over the coming months. Fortune Magazine editor-at-large Allan Sloan told Marketplace that Americans are likely to increase purchases of such cars if they grow increasingly confident that prices will remain high.

Tensions with Iran have only intensified over the past few weeks, and economic growth in Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) has continued to increase at a torrid pace, leaving little doubt that demand will remain robust. Iran's defiance in the face of economic sanctions over its nuclear program and its insistence that it will cut off oil shipments to Europe could further spur higher prices – and as a result, prompt more consumers to opt for fuel-efficient cars over their gas-guzzling SUV counterparts.

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