So who are these strange people who might want something as unusual, as perplexing, as downright radical as an electric car? More specifically, an all-electric 2011 Nissan Leaf compact hatchback?

Turns out they're the same people who wanted the last most radical type of family car: a hybrid-electric vehicle.

Yep, they're the exact same people who have now bought more than 1 million Toyota Prius hybrids.

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

Division vice president Al Castignetti described the results of Nissan's consumer research last week at a ceremony marking the start of work on a lithium-ion cell plant and Leaf assembly line in Smyrna, Tennessee, partly funded by U.S. Department of Energy low-interest loans.

More than half of the 130,000 people who expressed some interest in the Leaf--known as "hand-raisers"--were Toyota Prius hybrid owners, Castignetti said.  They are, he said, "a segment of eco-friendly consumers who are interested in going to the next level."

The 2011 Leaf is a dedicated design, which shares no body panels with any gasoline model. That undoubtedly works in its favor, since consumer research has shown that people who drive green cars--at least the Toyota Prius--want to make a statement about themselves.

Many of those Prius owners could afford pricier or more prestigious vehicles, it turns out. But they chose their Prius over a luxury car precisely to show the world that green issues are important to them.

The 2011 Nissan Leaf, by the way, is already sold out for the entire first year of production. That rousing response, said Castignetti, has made Nissan dealers more enthusiastic about their prospects for selling electric cars despite the cost of chargers they must install.

The first Leaf models will be built in Japan and delivered to dealers before the end of the year. GM's 2011 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle will reach dealers in November as well.