The Toyota Prius is on its way from being a worldwide phenomenon to a flat-out consumer staple in the transportation sector. The enigmatic hybrid-electric car just hit the ‘one million units sold’ mark and continues to sell like wildfire. “Many of our Priuses sell the same day they arrive on the lot. If they haven’t already pre-sold, that is. But that’s not a bad problem to have,” Baltimore-based Toyota dealership owner, Bill Kidd, told As most of the auto industry suffers through a down trend, the Prius enjoyed a sales jump of 67 percent in April alone. Year-to-date sales are up 23 percent compared to 2007. And since the Prius is looked upon as the bellweather vehicle for the hybrid car industry as a whole, the future of the segment is no doubt looking bright.

Of course, much of the Prius’ success is attributed to rising oil costs that topped 127 dollars per barrel just today. Fuel in many parts of the country has climbed over four dollars gallon. As consumers desperately seek relief from theses high gas prices, Toyota sees this as a good time to slightly raise the sticker on its hot hybrid commodity, as part of a general price increase across the vehicle line.

The 400 dollar increase in price does not seem particularly unreasonable, especially when higher gas prices these days equate to a shorter hybrid payback period. In other words, it’s taking less time for vehicles like the Prius to make back the premium consumers pay for a hybrid, in savings at the fuel pumps. “The increase is based on the elevated price of goods. It’s an annual adjustment,” said Toyota Spokesperson Bill Kwong. But it also gives the carmaker the opportunity to make up some of the profits it has lost from its non-hybrid offerings. Toyota’s overall North American sales are down just over three percent so far this year.

Aside from the concern over gas prices, those hybrid drivers who put equal weight on their vehicle’s environmental benefits should have even less of an issue with the price increase. The Prius has produced 4.5 million less tons of CO2 than comparably-sized gas-powered vehicles. To many, this reduction is worth it’s weight in gold.

Despite the possibility that Toyota is facing it’s first annual sales decline since 1995, the carmaker predicts Prius sales for 2008 to be at least at the same level as last year. The car will obviously play an important role in Toyota’s overall goal to sell one million-plus hybrid vehicles on an annual basis throughout the 2010s.