Sales of the Ford F-150 have been sluggish this year. Ford has blamed tight supplies. But is there more to the story?

Ford (NYSE:F) has been saying for months that slow-looking sales of its new 2015 F-150 pickup were due to tight supplies.

But is there more to the story?

Bloombergreported on Thursday, after examining Ford's website, that Ford has been offering discounts that can exceed $10,000 on certain versions of the new trucks. 

These aren't leftover 2014 models we're talking about. They're the brand-new, supposedly hot-selling, aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150s. 

Is Ford's super-important new pickup in trouble?

Why incentives don't necessarily mean trouble
Here's the short answer: Probably not, but it's worth watching.

Incentives are part-and-parcel of how big pickups are sold. Even the hottest brand-new pickups will have some level of incentives available on some models, just because that's what buyers expect. The automakers price the trucks with incentives in mind, and they still generate plenty of profits from the vehicles.

That's true even on a truck that has been in short supply, like the new F-150. Ford has been ramping up production of the new truck for months, and doesn't expect to have full inventories until the end of the summer. But as Bloomberg pointed out, the discounts have already started.

Some of those discounts aren't specific to the new truck, they're specific to financing choices offered by Ford Credit, the company's in-house financing unit. But it's true that there are some discounts available on the new F-150, although Ford insists that the overall level is quite modest by big-pickup standards.

It is even true that, in the right part of the country, with the right combination of options, one can "build" a pickup on Ford's website that will have a discount that breaks $10,000. 

But that's not typical.

Ford officials told the Detroit News and other media outlets on Thursday that the average incentive on an F-Series truck (which includes the F-150 and its Super Duty siblings) is just $3,100. That's about $600 less than Ford was offering on the outgoing models a year ago. 

Even though supplies are continuing to build, the new F-150 is still selling briskly, spending just 32 days on dealer lots before being sold. (A normal pace would be closer to 60 days.) And prices are very strong, even with the incentives: Ford says that the average transaction price on a new F-150 is $44,100. (Remember that the new F-150 starts at $26,030.) That's a record high price for Ford.

The upshot: Watch carefully
As a longtime Ford shareholder (and an even longer-time Ford watcher), I think there's nothing much to see here. 

As I said, discounts are just part of the truck business. It's not a surprise that some regions would have big discounts on some versions of the new F-150 already, even though it's selling very well on balance.

We'll know more when Ford releases its second-quarter earnings report later this month, and we'll know a lot more about the strength of the new F-150 relative to its competitors when Ford has full inventories this fall.

Arch-rival General Motors is already gearing up for that battle. How will Ford's new aluminum pickup fare? We'll know before long.