Some investors may have seen this one on the horizon. General Motors (NYSE:GM) reported third-quarter earnings that came in at the low end of estimates. Along with weak earnings, the automaker reduced its forecast for the year and announced that it will cut 12,000 jobs in Europe.

Net income at GM increased 3.5% to $440 million, or $0.78 per share. Revenues increased 3% to $44.9 billion. (If you had a tough time finding a copy of the news release like I did, you can find it attached as a Form 8-K at the SEC's site.) Despite the sunnier view from lending operations, there was plenty to worry investors.

GM said that health-care costs are proving a heavy burden to its earnings (the high cost of health care is no strange topic for anyone who has been following the presidential debates). However, it's clear more than that is ailing GM and rivals such as Ford (NYSE:F) and DaimlerChrysler (NYSE:DCX).

The company also cited overseas problems, with increased losses in Europe, lower production volumes in North America, and slower economic growth in China. However, we all know that here in the U.S., economic concerns still weigh on citizens to the extent that automakers, including GM (quiet desperation, anyone?), have been forced to push deep incentives to get vehicles moving off the lots. Consumer uncertainty has reared its head again, not to mention concerns such as rising gas prices.

Although GM had guided higher in the middle of the year, saying it expected to earn $7.00 per share, it has now returned to its initial expectation of earnings between $6.00 and $6.50 per share. Furthermore, the company also said that while it expects positive cash flow for the year, it does not expect to hit the target of $5 billion it had previously set.

In its conference call, the company called the quarter disappointing, citing the possibility of downgrades of its debt rating, as well as the first quarterly loss in the automotive segment in about a decade (with the exception of that which occurred during 1998 strikes).

Today's word from GM does give investors a lot to contemplate. Fool contributor Rich Smith and others here have taken a look at the automakers over the last several months and predicted coming difficulties. Given the variables at hand, many automakers may be spinning their wheels for a while yet.

For some more information on the automakers' challenges, check out the following Foolish content:

Talk about the issues facing GM on the General Motors discussion board. Or, if you are looking into buying a car, check out our helpful Buying and Maintaining a Car board.

Alyce Lomax drives an eight-year-old Subaru that she has beaten up pretty well. The way she sees it, if it can make it eight years, it can make it 10. She does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.