If you listen to the CEOs and PR spin-doctors, bankruptcy has never been an option for America's carmakers, despite behind-the-scenes talk of 'Plan B' scenarios. It turns out that such aversion to bankruptcy isn't just head-in-the-sand reactionary behavior. If General Motors and Chrysler were to file for bankruptcy, the cost could reach as high as $66 billion - four times the planned loan package - over a period of two years.

"The reality is that if the government doesn't provide support now, it will eventually provide it later,'' said BBK's managing director of automotive practice, Kriss Andrews. "It would be far better for the government to come in now under controlled circumstances to resolve the problem than in an uncontrolled circumstance."

The high cost of bankruptcy comes in both direct costs and in the impact on the industry's suppliers, according to the study by consulting firm BBK and Michigan's Anderson Economic Group. Up to $36 billion in direct taxpayer cost could be felt if the U.S. auto supply industry were to face a major carmaker's bankruptcy. The losses would come from plant closures, job losses, liquidations and the attendant secondary bankruptcies. The process could take as little as a few days due to the highly intertwined nature of the automotive industry.

Just as significantly, however, the long-term effects on the car brands themselves could be catastrophic. Bankruptcy "scares consumers away," said Andrews. "The bankruptcy court can make a lot of decisions. But bankruptcy judges can't tell people who to buy cars from. And if people don't buy your products, you're out of business."

On the other hand, the study finds that even a $30 billion loan package would cost $16 billion to taxpayers over the life of the program. Quadrupling that ultimate cost yields the $60-billion-plus figure, but since the current bridge loan package is shaping up to total less than $17 billion, the costs of the loans could end up closer to $8 billion - meaning bankruptcy would cost over 800% more.

Among the only people to benefit from the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler would be the attorneys duking it out in the trenches. The BBK/Anderson study analogized the fees to those of the bankruptcy of Enron, the failed energy company, amounting to between $1 and $2 billion.

The study's proponents even weighed in on the issue of Senator Chris Dodd's call for a new CEO at GM. Patrick Anderson, CEO of Anderson Economic Group, cautioned against bureaucratic interference with such business decisions, saying, "We're assuming the strings attached will be financial ones. If they become Political Motors versus General Motors or Chrysler, we will not have successful automakers."

Regardless of whether one is inclined to take the study's findings at face value, the content does appear reflect the concerns and sentiments of a huge segment of the American populace. And for better or worse, in today's market, consumer opinion matters as much as factual reality.