Autoblog's Eric Bryant reports that Mercedes-Benz has put together a unique international event to promote its new E-Class - a fuel economy run from Paris to Beijing. A fleet of 33 E-Class diesel-powered sedan will cover the 450,000 kilometers in only 26 days.

Thirty of the E-Class models will be equipped with European-spec V6 diesels, while the remaining three will be powered by U.S.-spec "Bluetec" engines.

The event kicks off October 21, 99 years after the world's first transcontinental auto race, which ran from Peking to Paris. The winner of the event will be the team that achieves the lowest fuel consumption, rather than the fastest time.

Mercedes-Benz is eager to promote its new E-Class in the Chinese market, where the company has just launched local production. More pics and the official press release after the jump.

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Official Press Release: Exceptional acid test for the new-generation E-Class

450,000 kilometres in 26 days: with 33 E-Class cars from Europe to Asia

· October 21, 2006: Start of the marathon from Paris to Beijing

· Route follows the traces of the first trans-continental long-distance race in 1907

· More than 13,600 kilometres through Europe and Asia in 26 days

The new-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which has been on the market since June, is to be subjected to an extraordinary endurance test: on October 21, 33 E-Class models equipped with V6 diesel engines will start out on a long-distance journey from Paris to Beijing, where local production of the business saloon has now commenced. Over long stretches of the journey, the symbolic bridging between Europe and Asia follows the route of the first transcontinental car race in history, which was started exactly 99 years ago and led from Beijing to Paris in 62 days. With the modern E-Class cars, Mercedes-Benz aims to accomplish this journey, which in parts runs through roadless terrain, in only 26 days.

Paris has always had an affinity for the automobile: in 1894 the French capital saw the debut of international motor racing, when the world's first car race covered a distance of 126 kilometres from Paris to Rouen. In 1895 the winner of this race, the car manufacturer Count Albert Jules de Dion, founded the world's first automobile club in Paris: l'Automobile-Club de France (ACF). Three years later the Paris Motor Show opened its doors for the first time.

In 1907 public attention once again focussed on Paris – as the destination for the first trans-continental car race in history. 99 years later Mercedes-Benz is following the route of this legendary "Raid Peking–Paris" – though in the opposite direction. The E-Class fleet which starts from Paris on October 21 consists of 33 series-production E-Class models with diesel engines, half of them equipped with 4MATIC four-wheel drive. Alongside thirty E 320 CDI models, three E 320 BLUETEC models ( version) will take part in the journey. The E 320 BLUETEC features the world's cleanest diesel engine. "70 years after Mercedes-Benz as the first car producer introduced the diesel engine in passenger cars, we now want to underline the performance and economy of our modern diesel technology with the long-distance drive from Paris to Beijing", explains Dr. Thomas Weber, member of the board of DaimlerChrysler AG, responsible for Group Research & Development at Mercedes Car Group.

Throughout the journey Aral, a part of the BP group, will exclusively supply the fleet with lubricants and low-sulphur diesel fuel, which is necessary to operate modern diesel engines but is not yet available in Eastern Europe and Asia.

13,600 kilometres in five stages

The long-distance drive Paris – Beijing 2006 will start in the heart of Paris on October 21, and spans a total distance of approximately 13,600 kilometres, crossing the borders of eight countries, to finish in Beijing where the teams are expected to arrive on November 17. In this drive, the sportive challenge for the participants lies in achieving the lowest possible fuel consumption on both the individual stages and in total, and all this in spite of the ambitious time schedule. Added together, the 33 E-Classes will drive more than 450,000 kilometres in
28 days, two of which are resting days for the teams. This equals more than eleven times the circumference of the equator.

Altogether 330 drivers from 40 countries around the globe will be sitting behind the steering wheels of the cars, taking the stages in turns. They include journalists, taxi-drivers and celebrities, as well as Mercedes customers and aficionados. Within a few weeks, 50,000 people from all parts of the world applied to take part in the run.

The first stage stretches over approximately 3,400 kilometres from Paris to Stuttgart, Berlin and Warsaw as well as the Baltic capitals of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn to finish in St. Petersburg. On their way, the participants pass some of the most beautiful places of old Europe, as well as widely unspoiled regions like the Masurian Lake District in the north east of . East of Moscow, which the teams will reach at the beginning of the second stage, the lesser-known part of Europe begins. Cities like Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan on the so-called "Volga Highway", the inland port of Perm or Yekaterinburg, situated on the other side of the Ural Mountains, the imaginary frontier between Europe and Asia, are to most participants, "terra incognita", as much as the regions they are driving through for around 2,700 kilometres: Chuvashia, Tatarstan and Udmurtia.

Reminiscence of the first transcontinental car race in history

On July 19, 1907, Yekaterinburg was also the intermediate destination of Prince Scipione Borghese. 39 days earlier in Beijing, he had started out on the first trans-continental car race in history together with ten intrepid companions travelling in five vehicles: Borghese in an Italian Itala with 40 hp, the Frenchman Charles Godard in a Dutch Spyker with 15 hp. Two other vehicles, De Dion Boutons with 10 hp from the workshop of Albert de Dion, winner of the 1894 Paris race, were driven by the car dealers Collignon and Cormier, and another Frenchman, Auguste Pons, participated with a three-wheeled Contal with 6 hp.

62 days and 10,000 miles later, after stresses and strains which are hard to imagine today, Scipione Borghese was the first to reach Paris. Collignon, Cormier and Godard reached their destination three weeks later. Auguste Pons had been obliged to retire from the race shortly after the start, as his three-wheeler had not survived the rigours of the Gobi desert.

From Europe's east to 's west

At Yekaterinburg the E-Class fleet turns off the original route of 1907 and – rather than going through Siberia – makes its way through in the direction of . The third stage with its 2,500 kilometres leads from Qostanai and the new Kazakhian capital of Astana to Almaty, the country's old capital. For this trip, the participants cross the seemingly endless vastness of the Kazakhian steppe and the "Steppe of Hunger", in the middle of which lies an uninhabited region the size of .

From here, the fourth stage of approximately 3,100 kilometres takes the drivers into 's Wild West. North of the Taklamakan desert, the contrasts could not be any more glaring. Only a few hours drive lie between the lonely yurt camps of the nomads and the new metropolises like Ürümqi and the sandy oasis town of Turfan. On the legendary Silk Road, the participants will reach the western offshoots of the Great Wall on the way to Lanzhou.

About 1,900 kilometres remain to be covered before the drivers reach the journey's final destination. First, the route follows the valley of the Yellow River, then crosses the outer edge of the Gobi desert and the grass pastures of Inner Mongolia. On November 17, the drivers are expected to reach the destination of this exceptional long-distance drive of 13,600 kilometres: the walls of the Forbidden City in the centre of Beijing. On the following day, "AutoChina 2006", the most important Chinese motor show at which the new-generation E-Class will also be presented, opens its doors.

The E-Class: business class for Chinese drivers

The E-Class made in China counts amongst the highlights of the leading Chinese automotive fair, which takes place biannually in turns with the "Auto Shanghai". The business saloon for Chinese customers will be produced in a completely new plant in the Beijing Development Area, in the southeast of the city. Beijing Benz-DaimlerChrysler Automotive Ltd. (BBDC) is a joint venture of DaimlerChrysler AG and their long standing partner Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Company (BAIC). BBDC is an expansion of the Beijing Jeep Corp., 's first automotive joint venture, which started building Jeeps in 1984.