"You can see the Nissan Leaf is a huge conquest vehicle for the brand," Tavares said Monday.
Most of the 20,000 people in mostly Western states who put down deposits to reserve a zero-emission Leaf are wealthy customers who have more than one car, he said.
While the first wave of Leaf owners will not be struggling with "range anxiety," the fear of being stranded with a dead battery, some analysts say range and cost concerns will limit demand for all-electric cars. Driving distances can be longer in America than in other regions, and fuel taxes are lower.
Last week, J.D. Power and Associates estimated that U.S. electric vehicle sales will hit 100,000 a year by 2020, compared with 332,000 in China and 742,000 in Europe.
J.D. Power expects U.S. sales of plug-in and extended-range electric cars, such as the Chevrolet Volt, to reach 162,000 vehicles a year by 2020.
"You won't be surprised that we disagree and are more bullish," Tavares told the Automotive Press Association.
Nissan estimates electric vehicles will account for 6.5 percent of the U.S. market by 2020. In a market of 12 million vehicles, that would represent 780,000 vehicles.
Still, that estimate shows Nissan expects a slower rise in U.S. electric vehicle sales than in other markets. Nissan has been saying it expects electric cars to account for 10 percent of global sales by 2020.
Nissan already has shown sketches of the electric Infiniti car. The urban electric car would be smaller than the Leaf.
The Leaf has a roughly 100-mile range — which is farther than 90 percent of American drivers travel in one day, Nissan officials say, citing U.S. government data.
By comparison, the Volt can ride between 25 and 50 miles on battery power alone, but has a gas engine to recharge the battery when it starts running low.
At roughly $41,000, the Volt will cost more than the $32,780 Leaf, but both models are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and credits in some states.
While initial Leaf buyers are attracted to the car's technology, Tavares says Nissan will stress the economical maintenance and energy costs to appeal to a wider audience of pragmatists.
Nissan estimates that the Leaf's maintenance costs will be roughly a fourth of those of the Toyota Prius hybrid car.
Nissan said dealers in the states where Nissan will sell electric cars initially will have four charging stations each, including two that will be available to the public.