GENEVA – Fiat brand chief Olivier Francois says the iconic Italian marque is relatively well-insulated from Europe’s tumultuous economic meltdown, but he is not content to wait out the chaos.

“In a moment of crisis, you have to think deeper about what you stand for,” Francois tells WardsAuto at the Geneva auto show here.

“We have to write down what we feel to be our game plan for the next years – which products, which values,” he says. “It’s a very good moment to do that.”

It is not a good time to launch cars such as the next-generation C-segment Punto, Fiat’s best-selling model. So Francois is relieved the auto maker’s cycle plan is not aligned with the economic cycle.

A freshened Punto bows here instead. It features, for the first time, Fiat’s award-winning 85-hp TwinAir turbo engine that emits just 98 g/km of carbon dioxide.

Auto makers launching high-volume products in this climate “are in a difficult position,” Francois adds.

He does not throw stones at any OEM in particular, but a stone’s throw from the Fiat stand is the Ford display, where a small fleet of the all-new B-Max compact people mover is being showcased.

Ford executives tell WardsAuto that maintaining product cadence has been essential to its success because it ensures Blue Oval showrooms are stocked with fresh product as soon as consumers regain their confidence.

However, Fiat showrooms are hardly barren. They feature all-new iterations of two important brand nameplates – the Panda cross/utility vehicle and a Punto-based 5-door derivative of the 500, dubbed 500L and making its world debut here.

“In a moment of crisis, people prefer icons rather than new, fancy stuff,” Francois says. “Panda,

like the 500, is one of the two pillars of Fiat DNA. They are the yin and the yang.”

The 500L is the focus of Fiat’s show stand. European-market buyers can get the 5-passenger people mover with the TwinAir turbo, a 1.4L gasoline engine and a 1.3L turbodiesel with MultiJet II fuel-injection technology.

The Panda, touted by Fiat as the “the first and second family car,” launched in December but in April can be had with the TwinAir engine and a new transmission.

Francois expects there will be a soft spot for the Panda in Fiat’s home market because production recently was returned to Italy from the auto maker’s plant in Tichy, Poland. The new Panda now is assembled at Fiat’s Pomigliano D’Arco site near Naples.

“It’s a product made in Italy, by Italians, for Italians,” Francois says. “This is more important than anything else.”

Hence the model’s marketing tag line: “Questa e l’Italia che piace.” Roughly translated: “What appeals to Italians.”

emayne@wardsauto.com