“Range anxiety” is the electric vehicle buzz-phrase to describe people who are worried about how far they can drive before being stranded when the battery runs out of charge.

The first EVs into mass market in the next couple of years will be good for 40 or 50 miles, much less than the standard commute according to the automotive industry consensus.

However, early trials show people may not even travel that far.

Cenex, set up by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, to promote and develop the UK’s automotive competitiveness, has had a number of electric Smart cars on a six month test in the North East of England with business and private users in places such Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham and Stockton.

It monitored the usage and driver behaviour and found that on average journeys were less than 5kms – just under three miles, while 55% of them were less than that.

The most anyone travelled in one go was 17.8kms before charging up again.

Cenex’s Chris Walsh told the Sunderland International Automotive Conference: “We also discovered that most people did not let the battery dip blow half charge and would not set out on a journey at that level of charge.”

Walsh said that the UK is targeting a reduction of vehicle C02 emissions of 30%  by 2030 and 80% by 2050. This will be achieved as new technologies emerge in the shape of EVs and cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells as well as the increasing use of lightweight materials.

“We will also see intelligent transport systems emerging, keeping drivers better informed about traffic conditions. We may also see vehicle platooning – the ability to have cars run in close convoy on controlled speeds on motorways – to ease congestion and therefore lower emissions.”

Ford is educating its drivers by introducing Eco-mode, a dashboard indicator to tell people how green is their driving.

Daniel Kok, head of micro hybrid systems at Ford of Europe said: “The indicator monitors how the car is being driven in terms of acceleration, braking and gear selection and can score the driver on how well they are doing.”

Kok added that a new generation of stop-start systems are in development which will start the engine more quickly and stop it more frequently.

“Current systems stop the engine when it is taken out of gear and the handbrake applied. Market forces are telling us that there will be a need to stop engines more often so we are working on systems that can shut the motor down even when it is in gear.”